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THE OLD WIVES' TALE 



THE 



BY 

ARNOLD BENNETT 

AUTHOR OF "BURIED ALIVE," ETC. 




THOMAS NELSON AND SONS, LTD. 
LONDON, EDINBURGH, AND NEW YORK 



:NS 




TO 

W. W. K. 



PREFACE TO THIS EDITION. 



IN the autumn of 1903 I used to dine frequently in a res- 
taurant in the Rue de Clichy, Paris. Here were, among 
others, two waitresses that attracted my attention. One 
was a beautiful, pale young girl, to whom I never spoke, 
for she was employed far away from the table which I 
affected. The other, a stout, middle-aged managing Breton 
woman, had sole command over my table and me, and 
gradually she began to assume such a maternal tone to- 
wards me that I saw I should be compelled to leave that 
restaurant. If I was absent for a couple of nights running 
she would reproach me sharply : " What ! you are un- 
faithful to me ? " Once, when I complained about some 
French beans, she informed me roundly that French beans 
were a subject which I did not understand. I then decided 
to be eternally unfaithful to her, and I abandoned the 
restaurant. A few nights before the final parting an old 
woman came into the restaurant to dine. She was fat, 
shapeless, ugly, and grotesque. She had a ridiculous voice, 
and ridiculous gestures. It was easy to see that she lived 
alone, and that in the long lapse of years she had developed 
the kind of peculiarity which induces guffaws among the 
thoughtless. She was burdened with a lot of small parcels, 
which she kept dropping. She chose one seat ; and then, 
not liking it, chose another ; and then another. In a few 
moments she had the whole restaurant laughing at her. 
That my middle-aged Breton should laugh was indifferent 



viii PREFACE. 

to me, but I was pained to see a coarse grimace of giggling 
on the pale face of the beautiful young waitress to whom I 
had never spoken. 

I reflected, concerning the grotesque diner : " This woman 
was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful ; certainly free 
from these ridiculous mannerisms. Very probably she 
is unconscious of her singularities. Her case is a tragedy. 
One ought to be able to make a heartrending novel out of 
the history of a woman such as she." Every stout, ageing 
woman is not grotesque far from it ! but there is an 
extreme pathos in the mere fact that every stout ageing 
woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of 
youth in her form and movements and in her mind. And 
the fact that the change from the young girl to the stout 
ageing woman is made up of an infinite number of infinitesi- 
mal changes, each unperceived by her, only intensifies the 
pathos. 

It was at this instant that I was visited by the idea of 
writing the book which ultimately became " The Old Wives' 
Tale." Of course I felt that the woman who caused the 
ignoble mirth in the restaurant would not serve me as a 
type of heroine. For she was much too old and obviously 
unsympathetic. It is an absolute rule that the principal 
character of a novel must not be unsympathetic, and the 
whole modern tendency of realistic fiction is against oddness 
in a prominent figure. I knew that I must choose the sort 
of woman who would pass unnoticed in a crowd. 

I put the idea aside for a long time, but it was never very 
distant from me. For several reasons it made a special 
appeal to me. I had always been a convinced admirer 
of Mrs. W. K. Clifford's most precious novel, " Aunt Anne," 
but I wanted to see in the story of an old woman many 
things that Mrs. W. K. Clifford had omitted from " Aunt 
Anne." Moreover, I had always revolted against the absurd 
youthfulness, the unfading youthfulness of the average 
heroine. And as a protest against this fashion, I was already, 
in 1903, planning a novel (" Leonora ") of which the heroine 
was aged forty, and had daughters old enough to be in love. 
The reviewers, by the way, were staggered by my hardihood 



PREFACE. ix 

in offering a woman of forty as a subject of serious interest 
to the public. But I meant to go much farther than forty ! 
Finally, as a supreme reason, I had the example and the 
challenge of Guy de Maupassant's '' Une Vie." In the 
nineties we used to regard " Une Vie" with mute awe, as being 
the summit of achievement in fiction. And I remember 
being very cross with Mr. Bernard Shaw because, having 
read " Une Vie " at the suggestion (I think) of Mr. William 
Archer, he failed to see in it anything very remarkable. 
Here I must confess that, in 1908, I read " Une Vie " again, 
and in spite of a natural anxiety to differ from Mr. Bernard 
Shaw, I was gravely disappointed with it. It is a fine novel, 
but decidedly inferior to " Pierre et Jean " or even " Fort 
Comme la Mort." To return to the year 1903. " Une Vie" 
relates the entire life-history of a woman. I settled in 
the privacy of my own head that my book about the de- 
velopment of a young girl into a stout old lady must be 
the English " Une Vie." I have been accused of every 
fault except a lack of self-confidence, and in a few weeks 
I settled a further point, namely, that my book must " go 
one better " than " Une Vie," and that to this end it must 
be the life-history of two women instead of only one. Hence, 
" The Old Wives' Tale " has two heroines. Constance was 
the original ; Sophia was created out of bravado, just to 
indicate that I declined to consider Guy de Maupassant 
as t . j last forerunner of the deluge. I was intimidated 
by the audacity of my project, but I had sworn to carry it 
out. For several years I looked it squarely in the face at 
intervals, and then walked away to write novels of smaller 
scope, of which I produced five or six. But I could not 
dally forever, and in the autumn of 1907 I actually began 
to write it, in a village near Fontainebleau, where I rented 
half a house from a retired railway servant. I calculated 
that it would be 200,000 words long (which it exactly proved 
to be), and I had a vague notion that no novel of such 
dimensions (except Richardson's) had ever been written 
before. So I counted the words in several famous Victorian 
novels, and discovered to my relief that the famous Victorian 
novels average 400,000 words apiece. I wrote the first 

i a 



CONTENTS. 



BOOK I. 
MRS. BAINES. 

I. THE SQUARE . . . . . . .17 

II. THE TOOTH 37 

III. A BATTLE ....... 47 

IV. ELEPHANT ....... 77 

V. THE TRAVELLER ...... 94 

VI. ESCAPADE . . . . . . .112 

VII. A DEFEAT 129 

i t 

BOOK II. 
CONSTANCE. 

I. REVOLUTION ....... 145 

II. CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE . . . .162 

III. CYRIL 177 

IV. CRIME 195 

V. ANOTHER CRIME . . . . . .212 

VI. THE WIDOW 243 

VII. BRICKS AND MORTAR . . . . 255 

VIII. THE PROUDEST MOTHER .... 267 






xiv CONTENTS. 

BOOK III. 
SOPHIA. 

I. THE ELOPEMENT ...... 279 

II. SUPPER . . . . . . . 291 

III. AN AMBITION SATISFIED ; 306 

IV. A CRISIS FOR GERALD ..... 324 
V. FEVER ........ 343 

VI. THE SIEGE 376 

VII. SUCCESS . . . . ' . . 401 

BOOK IV. 
WHAT LIFE IS. 

I. FRENSHAM'S ....... 421 

II. THE MEETING ...... 450 

III. TOWARDS HOTEL LIFE ..... 474 

IV. END OF SOPHIA ...... 512 

V. END OF CONSTANCE ..... 543 



BOOK I. 
MRS. BAINES. 



THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 



CHAPTER I. 

THE SQUARE. 
I. 

*~pHOSE two girls, Constance and Sophia Baines, paid 
J. no heed to the manifold interest of their situation, of 
which, indeed, they had never been conscious. They were, 
for example, established almost precisely on the fifty-third 
parallel of latitude. A little way to the north of them, in the 
creases of a hill famous for its religious orgies, rose the river 
Trent, the calm and characteristic stream of middle England. 
Somewhat further northwards, in the near neighbourhood 
of the highest public-house in the realm, rose two lesser 
rivers, the Dane and the Dove, which, quarrelling in early 
infancy, turned their backs on each other, and, the one by 
favour of the Weaver and the other by favour of the Trent, 
watered between them the whole width of England, and 
poured themselves respectively into the Irish Sea and the 
German Ocean. What a county of modest, unnoticed rivers ! 
What a natural, simple county, content to fix its boundaries 
by these tortuous island brooks, with their comfortable 
names Tient, Mease, Dove, Tern, Dane, Mees, Stour, Tame, 
and even hasty Severn ! Not that the Severn is suitable to 
the county ! In the county excess is deprecated. The 
county is happy in not exciting remark. It is content 
that Shropshire should possess that swollen bump, the 
Wrekin, and that the exaggerated wildness of the Peak 
should lie over its border. It does not desire to be a pan- 
cake, like Cheshire. It has everything that England has, 



1 8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

including thirty miles of Watling Street ; and England can 
show nothing more beautiful and nothing uglier than the 
works of nature and the works of man to be seen within 
the limits of the county. It is England in little, lost in the 
midst of England, unsung by searchers after the extreme ; 
perhaps occasionally somewhat sore at this neglect, but 
how proud in the instinctive cognizance of its representative 
features and traits ! 

Constance and Sophia, busy with the intense preoccupa- 
tions of youth, recked not of such matters. They were 
surrounded by the county. On every side the fields and 
moors of Staffordshire, intersected by roads and lanes, 
railways, watercourses and telegraph-lines, patterned by 
hedges, ornamented and made respectable by halls and 
genteel parks, enlivened by villages at the intersections, and 
warmly surveyed by the sun, spread out undulating. And 
trains were rushing round curves in deep cuttings, and carts 
and waggons trotting and jingling on the yellow roads, and 
long, narrow boats passing in a leisure majestic and infinite 
over the surface of the stolid canals ; the rivers had only 
themselves to support, for Staffordshire rivers have remained 
virgin of keels to this day. One could imagine the messages 
concerning prices, sudden death, and horses, in their flight 
through the wires under the feet of birds. In the inns Uto- 
pians were shouting the universe into order over beer, and in 
the halls and parks the dignity of England was being pre- 
served in a fitting manner. The villages were full of women 
who did nothing but fight against dirt and hunger, and 
repair the effects of friction on clothes. Thousands of 
labourers were in the fields, but the fields were so broad and 
numerous that this scattered multitude was totally lost 
therein. The cuckoo was much more perceptible than man, 
dominating whole square miles' with his resounding call. 
And on the airy moors heath-larks played in the inefface- 
able mule-tracks that had served centuries before even the 
Romans thought of Watling Street. In short, the usual 
daily life of the county was proceeding with all its immense 
variety and importance ; but though Constance and Sophia 
were hi it they were not of it. 

The fact is, that while in the county they were also hi 
the district ; and no person who lives in the district, even 
if he should be old and have nothing to do but reflect upon 
things in general, ever thinks about the county. So far 
as the county goes, the district might almost as well be 
in the middle of the Sahara. It ignores the county, save 
that it uses it nonchalantly sometimes as leg-stretcher on 



THE SQUARE. 19 

holiday afternoons, as a man may use his back garden. 
It has nothing in common with the county ; it is richly 
sufficient to itself. Nevertheless, its self-sufficiency and the 
true salt savour of its life can only be appreciated by pictur- 
ing it hemmed in by county. It lies on the face of the 
county like an insignificant stain, like a dark Pleiades in a 
green and empty sky. And Hanbridge has the shape of 
a horse and its rider, Bursley of half a donkey, Knype of a 
pair of trousers, Longshaw of an octopus, and little Turnhill 
of a beetle. The Five Towns seem to cling together for 
safety. Yet the idea of clinging together for safety would 
make them laugh. They are unique and indispensable. 
From the north of the county right down to the south they 
alone stand for civilization, applied science, organized 
manufacture, and the century until you come to Wolver- 
hampton. They are unique and indispensable because you 
cannot drink tea out of a teacup without the aid of the 
Five Towns ; because you cannot eat a meal in decency 
without the aid of the Five Towns. For this the archi- 
tecture of the Five Towns is an architecture of ovens and 
chimneys ; for this its atmosphere is as black as its mud ; 
for this it burns and smokes all night, so that Longshaw 
has been compared to hell ; for this it is unlearned in the 
ways of agriculture, never having seen corn except as pack- 
ing straw and in quartern loaves ; for this, on the other 
hand, it comprehends the mysterious habits of fire and pure, 
sterile earth ; for this it lives crammed together in slippery 
streets where the housewife must change white window- 
curtains at least once a fortnight if she wishes to remain 
respectable ; for this it gets up in the mass at six a.m., 
winter and summer, and goes to bed when the public -houses 
close ; for this it exists that you may drink tea out of a 
teacup and toy with a chop on a plate. All the everyday 
crockery used in the kingdom is made in the Five Towns 
all, and much besides. A district capable of such gigantic 
manufacture, of such a perfect monopoly and which finds 
energy also to produce coal and iron and great men may 
be an insignificant stain on a county, considered geographi- 
cally, but it is surely well justified in treating the county 
as its back garden once a week, and in blindly ignoring 
it the rest of the time. 

Even the majestic thought that whenever and wherever in 
all England a woman washes up, she washes up the product 
of the district ; that whenever and wherever in all England 
a plate is broken the fracture means new business for the 
district even this majestic thought had probably never 



20 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

occurred to either of the girls. The fact is, that while in 
the Five Towns they were also in the Square, Bursley and 
the Square ignored the staple manufacture as perfectly as 
the district ignored the county. Bursley has the honours 
of antiquity in the Five Towns. No industrial development 
can ever rob it of its superiority in age, which makes it 
absolutely sure in its conceit. And the time will never come 
when the other towns let them swell and bluster as they may 
will not pronounce the name of Bursley as one pronounces 
the name of one's mother. Add to this that the Square was 
the centre of Bursley's retail trade (which scorned the staple 
as something wholesale, vulgar, and assuredly filthy), and 
you will comprehend the importance and the self-isolation 
of the Square in the scheme of the created universe. There 
you have it, embedded in the district, and the district em- 
bedded in the county, and the county lost and dreaming 
in the heart of England ! 

The Square was named after St. Luke. The Evangelist 
might have been startled by certain phenomena in his square, 
but, except in Wakes Week, when the shocking always hap- 
pened, St. Luke's Square lived in a manner passably saintly 
though it contained five public-houses. It contained five 
public-houses, a bank, a barber's, a confectioner's, three 
grocers', two chemists', an ironmonger's, a clothier's, and 
five drapers'. These were all the catalogue. St. Luke's 
Square had no room for minor establishments. The aris- 
tocracy of the Square undoubtedly consisted of the drapers 
(for the bank was impersonal) ; and among the five the 
shop of Baines stood supreme. No business establishment 
could possibly be more respected than that of Mr. Baines was 
respected. And though John Baines had been bedridden 
for a dozen years, he still lived on the lips of admiring, 
ceremonious burgesses as " our honoured fellow-townsman." 
He deserved his reputation. 

The Barneses' shop, to make which three dwellings had at 
intervals been thrown into one, lay at the bottom of the 
Square. It formed about one-third of the south side of the 
Square, the remainder being made up of Critchlow's (chem- 
ist), the clothier's, and the Hanover Spirit Vaults. (" Vaults " 
was a favourite synonym of the public-house in the Square. 
Only two of the public-houses were crude public-houses : 
the rest were " vaults.") It was a composite building of 
three storeys, in blackish-crimson brick, with a projecting 
shop-front, and, above and behind that, two rows of little 
windows. On the sash of each window was a red cloth roll 
stuffed with sawdust, to prevent draughts ; plain white 



THE SQUARE. 21 

blinds descended about six inches from the top of each 
window. There were no curtains to any of the windows 
save one ; this was the window of the drawing-room, on the 
first floor at the corner of the Square and King Street. An- 
other window, on the second storey, was peculiar, in that 
it had neither blind nor pad, and was very dirty ; this was 
the window of an unused room that had a separate staircase 
to itself, the staircase being barred by a door always locked. 
Constance and Sophia had lived in continual expectation 
of the abnormal issuing from that mysterious room, which 
was next to their own. But they were disappointed. The 
room had no shameful secret except the incompetence of 
the architect who had made one house out of three ; it was 
just an empty, unemployable room. The building had also 
a considerable frontage on King Street, where, behind the 
shop, was sheltered the parlour, with a large window and 
a door that led directly by two steps into the street. A 
strange peculiarity of the shop was that it bore no sign- 
board. Once it had had a large signboard which a memor- 
able gale had blown into the Square. Mr. Baines had de- 
cided not to replace it. He had always objected to what 
he called " puffing," and for this reason would never hear 
of such a thing as a clearance sale. The hatred of " puffing " 
grew on him until he came to regard even a sign as " puffing." 
Uninformed persons who wished to find Baines's must ask 
and learn. For Mr. Baines, to have replaced the sign would 
have been to condone, yea, to participate in, the modern 
craze for unscrupulous self-advertisement. This abstention 
of Mr. Baines's from indulgence in signboards was somehow 
accepted by the more thoughtful members of the community 
as evidence that the height of Mr. Baines's principles was 
greater even than they had imagined. 

Constance and Sophia were the daughters of this credit 
to human nature. He had no other children. 



II. 

They pressed their noses against the window of the show- 
room, and gazed down into the Square as perpendicularly as 
the projecting front of the shop would allow. The show- 
room was over the millinery and silken half of the shop. 
Over the woollen and shirting half were the drawing-room 
and the chief bedroom. When in quest of articles of co- 
quetry, you mounted from the shop by a curving stair, and 
your head gradually rose level with a large apartment having 



22 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

a mahogany counter in front of the window and along one 
side, yellow linoleum on the floor, many cardboard boxes, 
a magnificent hinged cheval glass, and two chairs. The 
window-sill being lower than the counter, there was a gulf 
between the panes and the back of the counter, into which 
important articles such as scissors, pencils, chalk, and artificial 
flowers were continually disappearing : another proof of the 
architect's incompetence. 

The girls could only press their noses against the window 
by kneeling on the counter, and this they were doing. Con- 
stance's nose was snub, but agreeably so. Sophia had a 
fine Roman nose ; she was a beautiful creature, beautiful 
and handsome at the same time. They were both of them 
rather like racehorses, quivering with delicate, sensitive, and 
luxuriant life ; exquisite, enchanting proof of the circulation 
of the blood ; innocent, artful, roguish, prim, gushing, 
ignorant, and miraculously wise. Their ages were sixteen 
and fifteen ; it is an epoch when, if one is frank, one must 
admit that one has nothing to learn : one has learnt simply 
everything in the previous six months. 

" There she goes ! " exclaimed Sophia. 

Up the Square, from the corner of King Street, passed a 
woman in a new bonnet with pink strings, and a new blue 
dress that sloped at the shoulders and grew to a vast circum- 
ference at the hem. Through the silent sunlit solitude of the 
Square (for it was Thursday afternoon, and all the shops 
shut except the confectioner's and one chemist's) this bonnet 
and this dress floated northwards in search of romance, 
under the relentless eyes of Constance and Sophia. Within 
them, somewhere, was the soul of Maggie, domestic servant 
at Baines's. Maggie had been at the shop since before the 
creation of Constance and Sophia. She lived seventeen 
hours of each day in an underground kitchen and larder, 
and the other seven in an attic, never going out except to 
chapel on Sunday evenings, and once a month on Thursday 
afternoons. " Followers " were most strictly forbidden to 
her ; but on rare occasions an aunt from Longshaw was 
permitted as a tremendous favour to see her in the sub- 
terranean den. Everybody, including herself, considered 
that she had a good " place," and was well treated. It was 
undeniable, for instance, that she was allowed to fall in love 
exactly as she chose, provided she did not " carry on " in 
the kitchen or the yard. And as a fact, Maggie had fallen 
in love. In seventeen years she had been engaged eleven 
times. No one could conceive how that ugly and powerful 
organism could softly languish to the undoing of even a 



THE SQUARE. 23 

butty-collier, nor why, having caught a man in her sweet 
toils, she could ever be imbecile enough to set him free. 
There are, however, mysteries in the souls of Maggies. The 
drudge had probably been affianced oftener than any woman 
in Bursley. Her employers were so accustomed to an in- 
teresting announcement that for years they had taken to say- 
ing naught in reply but " Really, Maggie!" Engagements 
and tragic partings were Maggie's pastime. Fixed other- 
wise, she might have studied the piano instead. 

" No gloves, of course ! " Sophia criticized. 

" Well, you can't expect her to have gloves," said Con- 
stance. 

Then a pause, as the bonnet and dress neared the top of 
the Square. 

" Supposing she turns round and sees us ? " Constance 
suggested. 

" I don't care if she does," said Sophia, with a haugh- 
tiness almost impassioned ; and her head trembled 
slightly. 

There were, as usual, several loafers at the top of the 
Square, in the corner between the bank and the " Marquis 
of Granby." And one of these loafers stepped forward 
and shook hands with an obviously willing Maggie. Clearly 
it was a rendezvous, open, unashamed. The twelfth victim 
had been selected by the virgin of forty, whose kiss would 
not have melted lard ! The couple disappeared together 
down Oldcastle Street. 

" Well I " cried Constance. " Did you ever see such a 
thing ? " 

While Sophia, short of adequate words, flushed and bit 
her lip. 

With the profound, instinctive cruelty of youth, Constance 
and Sophia had assembled in their favourite haunt, the 
show-room, expressly to deride Maggie in her new clothes. 
They obscurely thought that a woman so ugly and soiled 
as Maggie was had no right to possess new clothes. Even 
her desire to take the air of a Thursday afternoon seemed 
to them unnatural and somewhat reprehensible. Why 
should she want to stir out of her kitchen ? As for her 
tender yearnings, they positively grudged these to Maggie. 
That Maggie should give rein to chaste passion was more 
than grotesque ; it was offensive and wicked. But let it 
not for an instant be doubted that they were nice, kind- 
hearted, well-behaved, and delightful girls 1 Because they 
were. They were not angels. 

" It's too ridiculous 1 " said Sophia, severely. She had 



24 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

youth, beauty, and rank in her favour. And to her it really 
was ridiculous. 

" Poor old Maggie ! " Constance murmured. Constance 
was foolishly good-natured, a perfect manufactory of excuses 
for other people ; and her benevolence was eternally rising 
up and overpowering her reason. 

" What time did mother say she should be back ? " Sophia 
asked. 

" Not until supper." 

" Oh ! Hallelujah ! " Sophia burst out, clasping her hands 
in joy. And they both slid down from the counter just as 
if they had been little boys, and not, as their mother called 
them, " great girls." 

" Let's go and play the Osborne quadrilles," Sophia sug- 
gested (the Osborne quadrilles being a series of dances ar- 
ranged to be performed on drawing-room pianos by four 
jewelled hands). 

" I couldn't think of it," said Constance, with a precocious 
gesture of seriousness. In that gesture, and in her tone, was 
something which conveyed to Sophia : " Sophia, how can you 
be so utterly blind to the gravity of our fleeting existence as 
to ask me to go and strum the piano with you ? " Yet a 
moment before she had been a little boy. 

" Why not ? " Sophia demanded. 

. " I shall never have another chance like to-day for getting 
on with this," said Constance, picking up a bag from the 
counter. 

She sat down and took from the bag a piece of loosely 
woven canvas, on which she was embroidering a bunch of 
roses in coloured wools. The canvas had once been stretched 
on a frame, but now, as the delicate labour of the petals and 
leaves was done, and nothing remained to do but the monot- 
onous background, Constance was content to pin the stuff to 
her knee. With the long needle and several skeins of mustard- 
tinted wool, she bent over the canvas and resumed the filling- 
in of the tiny squares. The whole design was in squares 
the gradations of red and greens, the curves of the smallest 
buds all was contrived in squares, with a result that 
mimicked a fragment of uncompromising Axminster carpet. 
Still, the fine texture of the wool, the regular and rapid grace 
of those fingers moving incessantly at back and front of the 
canvas, the gentle sound of the wool as it passed through the 
holes, and the intent, youthful earnestness of that lowered 
gaze, excused and invested with charm an activity which, 
on artistic grounds, could not possibly be justified. The 
canvas was destined to adorn a gilt firescreen in the draw- 



THE SQUARE. 25 

ing-room, and also to form a birthday gift to Mrs. Baines 
from her elder daughter. But whether the enterprise was 
as secret from Mrs. Baines as Constance hoped, none save 
Mrs. Baines knew. 

" Con," murmured Sophia, " you're too sickening some- 
times." 

" Well," said Constance, blandly, " it's no use pretending 
that this hasn't got to be finished before we go back to school, 
because it has." 

Sophia wandered about, a prey ripe for the Evil One. 
" Oh," she exclaimed joyously even ecstatically looking 
behind the cheval glass, " here's mother's new skirt ! Miss 
Dunn's been putting the gimp on it ! Oh, mother, what a 
proud thing you will be ! " 

Constance heard swishings behind the glass. " What are 
you doing, Sophia ? " 

" Nothing." 

" You surely aren't putting that skirt on ? " 

" Why not ? " 

" You'll catch it finely, I can tell you ! " 

Without further defence, Sophia sprang out from behind 
the immense glass. She had already shed a notable part of 
her own costume, and the flush of mischief was in her face. 
She ran across to the other side of the room and examined 
carefully a large coloured print that was affixed to the wall. 

This print represented fifteen sisters, all of the same height 
and slimness of figure, all f the same age about twenty- 
five or so and all with exactly the same haughty and bored 
beauty. That they were in truth sisters was clear from the 
facial resemblance between them ; their demeanour indicated 
that they were princesses, offspring of some impossibly pro- 
lific king and queen. Those hands had never toiled, nor had 
those features ever relaxed from the smile of courts. The 
princesses moved in a landscape of marble steps and veran- 
dahs, with a bandstand and strange trees in the distance. 
One was in a riding-habit, another in evening attire, another 
dressed for tea, another for the theatre ; another seemed to 
be ready to go to bed. One held a little girl by the hand ; 
it could not have been her own little girl, for these princesses 
were far beyond human passions. Where had she obtained 
the little girl ? Why was one sister going to the theatre, 
another to tea, another to the stable, and another to bed ? 
Why was one in a heavy mantle, and another sheltering from 
the sun's rays under a parasol ? The picture was drenched 
in mystery, and the strangest thing about it was that all 
these highnesses were apparently content with the most 



26 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ridiculous and out-moded fashions. Absurd hats, with veils 
flying behind ; absurd bonnets, fitting close to the head, 
and spotted ; absurd coiffures that nearly lay on the nape ; 
absurd, clumsy sleeves ; absurd waists, almost above the 
elbow's level ; absurd scolloped jackets ! And the skirts ! 
What a sight were those skirts ! They were nothing but vast 
decorated pyramids ; on the summit of each was stuck the 
upper half of a princess. It was astounding that princesses 
should consent to be so preposterous and so uncomfortable. 
But Sophia perceived nothing uncanny in the picture, which 
bore the legend : " Newest summer fashions from Paris. 
Gratis supplement to Myra's Journal." Sophia had never 
imagined anything more stylish, lovely, and dashing than the 
raiment of the fifteen princesses. 

For Constance and Sophia had the disadvantage of living 
in the middle ages. The crinoline had not quite reached its 
full circumference, and the dress-improver had not even been 
thought of. In all the Five Towns there was not a public 
bath, nor a free library, nor a municipal park, nor a telephone, 
nor yet a board-school. People had not understood the vital 
necessity of going away to the seaside every year. Bishop 
Colenso had just staggered Christianity by his shameless 
notions on the Pentateuch. Half Lancashire was starving 
on account of the American war. Garroting was the chief 
amusement of the homicidal classes. Incredible as it may 
appear, there was nothing but a horse-tram running between 
Bursley and Hanbridge and that only twice an hour ; and 
between the other towns no stage of any kind ! One went 
to Longshaw as one now goes to Pekin. It was an era so 
dark and backward that one might wonder how people could 
sleep in their beds at night for thinking about their sad state. 

Happily the inhabitants of the Five Towns in that era were 
passably pleased with themselves, and they never even sus- 
pected that they were not quite modern and quite awake. 
They thought that the intellectual, the industrial, and the 
social movements had gone about as far as these movements 
could go, and they were amazed at their own progress. In- 
stead of being humble and ashamed they actually showed 
pride in their pitiful achievements. They ought to have 
looked forward meekly to the prodigious feats of posterity ; 
but, having too little faith and too much conceit, they were 
content to look behind and make comparisons with the past. 
They did not foresee the miraculous generation which is us. 
A poor, blind, complacent people ! The ludicrous horse-car 
was typical of them. The driver rang a huge bell, five minutes 
before starting, that could be heard from the Wesleyan Chapel 



THE SQUARE. 27 

to the Cock Yard, and then after deliberations and hesi- 
tations the vehicle rolled off on its rails into unknown 
dangers while passengers shouted good-bye. At Bleakridge 
it had to stop for the turnpike, and it was assisted up the 
mountains of Leveson Place and Sutherland Street (towards 
Hanbridge) by a third horse, on whose back was perched a 
tiny, whip-cracking boy ; that boy lived like a shuttle on the 
road between Leveson Place and Sutherland Street, and even 
in wet weather he was the envy of all other boys. After 
half an hour's perilous transit the car drew up solemnly in 
a narrow street by the Signal office in Hanbridge, and the 
ruddy driver, having revolved many times the polished iron 
handle of his sole break, turned his attention to his pas- 
sengers in calm triumph, dismissing them with a sort of 
unsung doxology. 

And this was regarded as the last word of traction I A 
whip-cracking boy on a tip horse ! Oh, blind, blind ! You 
could not foresee the hundred and twenty electric cars that 
now rush madly bumping and thundering at twenty miles 
an hour through all the main streets of the district ! 

So that naturally Sophia, infected with the pride of her 
period, had no misgivings whatever concerning the final ele- 
gance of the princesses. She studied them as the fifteen 
apostles of the ne plus ultra ; then, having taken some flowers 
and plumes out of a box, amid warnings from Constance, 
she retreated behind the glass, and presently emerged as a 
great lady in the style of the princesses. Her mother's 
tremendous new gown ballooned about her in all its fantastic 
richness and expensiveness. And with the gown she had put 
on her mother's importance that mien of assured authority, 
of capacity tested in many a crisis, which characterized Mrs. 
Baines, and which Mrs. Baines seemed to impart to her dresses 
even before she had regularly worn them. For it was a 
fact that Mrs. Baines's empty garments inspired respect, as 
though some essence had escaped from her and remained in 
them. 

" Sophia ! " 

Constance stayed her needle, and, without lifting her head, 
gazed, with eyes raised from the wool-work, motionless at 
the posturing figure of her sister. It was sacrilege that she 
was witnessing, a prodigious irreverence. She was conscious 
of an expectation that punishment would instantly fall on 
this daring, impious child. But she, who never felt these 
mad, amazing impulses, could nevertheless only smile fear- 
fully. 

" Sophia ! " she breathed, with an intensity of alarm that 



28 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

merged into condoning admiration. " Whatever will you do 
next ? " 

Sophia's lovely flushed face crowned the extraordinary 
structure like a blossom, scarcely controlling its laughter. 
She was as tall as her mother, and as imperious, as crested, 
and proud ; and in spite of the pigtail, the girlish semi- 
circular comb, and the loose foal-like limbs, she could support 
as well as her mother the majesty of the gimp-embroidered 
dress. Her eyes sparkled with all the challenges of the un- 
tried virgin as she minced about the showroom. Abound- 
ing life inspired her movements. The confident and fierce 
joy of youth shone on her brow. " What thing on earth 
equals me ? " she seemed to demand with enchanting and 
yet ruthless arrogance. She was the daughter of a respected, 
bedridden draper in an insignificant town, lost in the central 
labyrinth of England, if you like ; yet what manner of man, 
confronted with her, would or could have denied her naive 
claim to dominion ? She stood, in her mother's hoops, for 
the desire of the world. And in the innocence of her soul 
she knew it ! The heart of a young girl mysteriously speaks 
and tells her of her power long ere she can use her power. 
If she can find nothing else to subdue, you may catch her 
in the early years subduing a gate-post or drawing homage 
from an empty chair. Sophia's experimental victim was 
Constance, with suspended needle and soft glance that shot 
out from the lowered face. 

Then Sophia fell, in stepping backwards ; the pyramid was 
overbalanced ; great distended rings of silk trembled and 
swayed gigantically on the floor, and Sophia's small feet lay 
like the feet of a doll on the rim of the largest circle, which 
curved and arched above them like a cavern's mouth. The 
abrupt transition of her features from assured pride to ludi- 
crous astonishment and alarm was comical enough to have 
sent into wild uncharitable laughter any creature less humane 
than Constance. But Constance sprang to her, a single em- 
bodied instinct of benevolence, with her snub nose, and tried 
to raise her. 

" Oh, Sophia ! " she cried compassionately that voice 
seemed not to know the tones of reproof " I do hope you've 
not messed it, because mother would be so " 

The words were interrupted by the sound of groans beyond 
the door leading to the bedrooms. The groans, indicating 
direct physical torment, grew louder. The two girls stared, 
wonder-struck and afraid, at the door, Sophia with her dark 
head raised, and Constance with her arms round Sophia's 
waist. The door opened, letting in a much-magnified sound 



THE SQUARE. 29 

of groans, and there entered a youngish, undersized man, 
who was frantically clutching his head in his hands and con- 
torting all the muscles of his face. On perceiving the sculp- 
tural group of two prone, interlocked girls, one enveloped in 
a crinoline, and the other with a wool-work bunch of flowers 
pinned to her knee, he jumped back, ceased groaning, ar- 
ranged his face, and seriously tried to pretend that it was 
not he who had been vocal in anguish, that, indeed, he was 
just passing as a casual, ordinary wayfarer through the 
showroom to the shop below. He blushed darkly ; and the 
girls also blushed. 

" Oh, I beg pardon, I'm sure ! " said this youngish man 
suddenly ; and with a swift turn he disappeared whence he 
had come. 

He was Mr. Povey, a person universally esteemed, both 
vrithin and without the shop, the surrogate of bedridden Mr. 
Baines, the unfailing comfort and stand-by of Mrs. Baines, 
the fount and radiating centre of order and discipline in the 
shop ; a quiet, diffident, secretive, tedious, and obstinate 
youngish man, absolutely faithful, absolutely efficient in his 
sphere ; without brilliance, without distinction ; perhaps 
rather little-minded, certainly narrow-minded ; but what a 
force in the shop ! The shop was inconceivable without Mr. 
Povey. He was under twenty and not out of his apprentice- 
ship when Mr. Baines had been struck down, and he had at 
once proved his worth. Of the assistants, he alone slept in 
the house. His bedroom was next to that of his employer ; 
there was a door between the two chambers, and the two 
steps led down from the larger to the less. 

The girls regained their feet, Sophia with Constance's help. 
It was not easy to right a capsized crinoline. They both 
began to laugh nervously, with a trace of hysteria. 

" I thought he'd gone to the dentist's," whispered Con- 
stance. 

Mr. Povey's toothache had been causing anxiety in the 
microcosm for two days, and it had been clearly understood 
at dinner that Thursday morning that Mr. Povey was to set 
forth to Oulsnam Bros., the dentists at Hillport, without any 
delay. Only on Thursdays and Sundays did Mr. Povey dine 
with the family. On other days he dined later, by him- 
self, but at the family table, when Mrs. Baines or one of the 
assistants could " relieve " him in the shop. Before starting 
out to visit her elder sister at Axe, Mrs. Baines had insisted 
to Mr. Povey that he had eaten practically nothing but 
" slops " for twenty-four hours, and that if he was not care- 
ful she would have him on her hands. He had replied in his 



30 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

quietest, most sagacious, matter-of-fact tone the tone that 
carried weight with all who heard it that he had only been 
waiting for Thursday afternoon, and should of course go 
instantly to Oulsnams' and have the thing attended to in a 
proper manner. He had even added that persons who put 
off going to the dentist's were simply sowing trouble for them- 
selves. 

None could possibly have guessed that Mr. Povey was 
afraid of going to the dentist's. But such was the case. He 
had not dared to set forth. The paragon of commonsense, 
pictured by most people as being somehow unliable to human 
frailties, could not yet screw himself up to the point of ring- 
ing a dentist's door-bell. 

" He did look funny," said Sophia. " I wonder what he 
thought. I couldn't help laughing ! " 

Constance made no answer ; but when Sophia had resumed 
her own clothes, and it was ascertained beyond doubt that 
the, new dress had not suffered, and Constance herself was 
calmly stitching again, she said, poising her needle as she had 
poised it to watch Sophia : 

" I was just wondering whether something oughtn't to be 
done for Mr. Povey." 

" What ? " Sophia demanded. 

" Has he gone back to his bedroom ? " 

" Let's go and listen," said Sophia the adventuress. 

They went, through the showroom door, past the foot of 
the stairs leading to the second storey, down the long cor- 
ridor broken in the middle by two steps and carpeted with a 
narrow bordered carpet whose parallel lines increased its 
apparent length. They went on tiptoe, sticking close to one 
another. Mr. Povey 's door was slightly ajar. They listened ; 
not a sound. 

"Mr. Povey ! " Constance coughed discreetly. 

No reply. It was Sophia who pushed the door open. 
Constance made an elderly prim plucking gesture at Sophia's 
bare arm, but she followed Sophia gingerly into the forbidden 
room, which was, however, empty. The bed had been ruffled, 
and on it lay a book, " The Harvest of a Quiet Eye." 

" Harvest of a quiet tooth ! " Sophia whispered, giggling 
very low. 

" Hsh ! " Constance put her lips forward. 

From the next room came a regular, muffled, oratorical 
sound, as though some one had begun many years ago to 
address a meeting and had forgotten to leave off and never 
would leave off. They were familiar with the sound, and they 
quitted Mr. Povey 's chamber in fear of disturbing it. At 



THE SQUARE. 31 

the same moment Mr. Povey reappeared, this time in the 
drawing-room doorway at the other extremity of the long 
corridor. He seemed to be trying ineffectually to flee from 
his tooth as a murderer tries to flee from his conscience. 

" Oh, Mr. Povey ! " said Constance quickly for he had 
surprised them coming out of his bedroom ; " we were just 
looking for you." 

" To see if we could do anything for you," Sophia added. 

" Oh no, thanks ! " said Mr. Povey. 

Then he began to come down the corridor, slowly. 

" You haven't been to the dentist's," said Constance sym- 
pathetically. 

" No, I haven't," said Mr. Povey, as if Constance was in- 
dicating a fact which had escaped his attention. " The truth 
is, I thought it looked like rain, and if I'd got wet you 
see " 

Miserable Mr. Povey ! 

" Yes," said Constance, " you certainly ought to keep out 
of draughts. Don't you think it would be a good thing if 
you went and sat in the parlour ? There's a fire there." 

" I shall be all right, thank you," said Mr. Povey. And 
after a pause : " Well, thanks, I will." 



III. 

The girls made way for him to pass them at the head of the 
twisting stairs which led down to the parlour. Constance 
followed, and Sophia followed Constance. 

" Have father's chair," said Constance. 

There were two rocking-chairs with fluted backs covered 
by antimacassars, one on either side of the hearth. That to 
the left was still entitled " father's chair," though its owner 
had not sat in it since long before the Crimean war, and 
would never sit in it again. 

" I think I'd sooner have the other one," said Mr. Povey, 
" because it's on the right side, you see." And he touched 
his right cheek. 

Having taken Mrs. Baines's chair, he bent his face down 
to the fire, seeking comfort from its warmth. Sophia poked 
the fire, whereupon Mr. Povey abruptly withdrew his face. 
He then felt something light on his shoulders. Constance 
had taken the antimacassar from the back of the chair, and 
protected him with it from the draughts. He did not in- 
stantly rebel, and therefore was permanently barred from 
rebellion. He was entrapped by the antimacassar. It for- 



32 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

mally constituted him an invalid, and Constance and Sophia 
his nurses. Constance drew the curtain across the street 
door. No draught could come from the window, for the 
window was not " made to open." The age of ventilation 
had not arrived. Sophia shut the other two doors. And, 
each near a door, the girls gazed at Mr. Povey behind his 
back, irresolute, but filled with a delicious sense of responsi- 
bility. 

The situation was on a different plane now. The serious- 
ness of Mr. Povey 's toothache, which became more and more 
manifest, had already wiped out the ludicrous memory of the 
encounter in the showroom. Looking at these two big girls, 
with their short-sleeved black frocks and black aprons, and 
their smooth hair, and their composed serious faces, one would 
have judged them incapable of the least lapse from an arch- 
angelic primness ; Sophia especially presented a marvellous 
imitation of saintly innocence. As for the toothache, its 
action on Mr. Povey was apparently periodic ; it gathered 
to a crisis like a wave, gradually, the torture increasing till 
the wave broke and left Mr. Povey exhausted, but free for a 
moment from pain. These crises recurred about once a 
minute. And now, accustomed to the presence of the young 
virgins, and having tacitly acknowledged by his acceptance 
of the antimacassar that his state was abnormal, he gave 
himself up frankly to affliction. He concealed nothing of 
his agony, which was fully displayed by sudden contortions 
of his frame, and frantic oscillations of the rocking-chair. 
Presently, as he lay back enfeebled in the wash of a spent 
wave, he murmured with a sick man's voice : 

" I suppose you haven't got any laudanum ? " 

The girls started into life. " Laudanum, Mr. Povey ? " 

" Yes, to hold in my mouth." 

He sat up, tense ; another wave was forming. The ex- 
cellent fellow was lost to all self-respect, all decency. 

" There's sure to be some in mother's cupboard," said 
Sophia. 

Constance, who bore Mrs. Baines's bunch of keys at her 
girdle, a solemn trust, moved a little fearfully to a corner 
cupboard which was hung in the angle to the right of the 
projecting fireplace, over a shelf on which stood a large 
copper tea-urn. That corner cupboard, of oak inlaid with 
maple and ebony in a simple border pattern, was typical of 
the room. It was of a piece with the deep green " flock " 
wall paper, and the tea-urn, and the rocking-chairs with their 
antimacassars, and the harmonium in rosewood with a Chinese 
papier-mache tea-caddy on the top of it ; even with the carpet, 



THE SQUARE. 33 

certainly the most curious parlour carpet that ever was, being 
made of lengths of the stair-carpet sewn together side by 
side. That corner cupboard was already old in service ; it 
had held the medicines of generations. It gleamed darkly 
with the grave and genuine polish which comes from ancient 
use alone. The key which Constance chose from her bunch 
was like the cupboard, smooth and shining with years ; it 
fitted and turned very easily, yet with a firm snap. The 
single wide door opened sedately as a portal. 

The girls examined the sacred interior, which had the air 
of being inhabited by an army of diminutive prisoners, each 
crying aloud with the full strength of its label to be set free 
on a mission. 

" There it is ! " said Sophia eagerly. 

And there it was : a blue bottle, with a saffron label, 
" Caution. POISON. Laudanum. Charles Critchlow, 
M.P.S. Dispensing Chemist. St. Luke's Square, Bursley." 

Those large capitals frightened the girls. Constance took 
the bottle as she might have taken a loaded revolver, and she 
glanced at Sophia. Their omnipotent, all-wise mother was 
not present to tell them what to do. They, who had never 
decided, had to decide now. And Constance was the elder. 
Must this fearsome stuff, whose very name was a name of fear, 
be introduced in spite of printed warnings into Mr. Povey's 
mouth ? The responsibility was terrifying. 

" Perhaps I'd just better ask Mr. Critchlow," Constance 
faltered. 

The expectation of beneficent laudanum had enlivened 
Mr. Povey, had already, indeed, by a sort of suggestion, half 
cured his toothache. 

" Oh no ! " he said. " No need to ask Mr. Critchlow . . . 
Two or three drops in a little water." He showed impatience 
to be at the laudanum. 

The girls knew that an antipathy existed between the 
chemist and Mr. Povey. 

" It's sure to be all right," said Sophia. " I'll get the 
water." 

With youthful cries and alarms they succeeded in pouring 
four mortal dark drops (one more than Constance intended) 
into a cup containing a little water. And as they handed the 
cup to Mr. Povey their faces were the faces of affrighted 
comical conspirators. They felt so old and they looked so 
young. 

Mr. Povey imbibed eagerly of the potion, put the cup on 
the mantelpiece, and then tilted his head to the right so as to 
submerge the affected tooth. In this posture he remained, 



34 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

awaiting the sweet influence of the remedy. The girls, out of 
a nice modesty, turned away, for Mr. Povey must not swallow 
the medicine, and they preferred to leave him unhampered 
in the solution of a delicate problem. When next they ex- 
amined him, he was leaning back in the rocking-chair with 
his mouth open and his eyes shut. 

" Has it done you any good, Mr. Povey ? " 

" I think I'll lie down on the sofa for a minute," was Mr. 
Povey's strange reply ; and forthwith he sprang up and flung 
himself on to the horse-hair sofa between the fireplace and 
the window, where he lay stripped of all his dignity, a mere 
beaten animal in a grey suit with peculiar coat-tails, and a 
very creased waistcoat, and a lapel that was planted with 
pins, and a paper collar and close-fitting paper cuffs. 

Constance ran after him with the antimacassar, which she 
spread softly on his shoulders ; and Sophia put another one 
over his thin little legs, all drawn up. 

They then gazed at their handiwork, with secret self-accusa- 
tions and the most dreadful misgivings. 

" He surely never swallowed it ! " Constance whispered. 

" He's asleep, anyhow," said Sophia, more loudly. 

Mr. Povey was certainly asleep, and his mouth was very 
wide open like a shop-door. The only question was whether 
his sleep was not an eternal sleep ; the only question was 
whether he was not out of his pain for ever. 

Then he snored horribly ; his snore seemed a portent of 
disaster. 

Sophia approached him as though he were a bomb, and 
stared, growing bolder, into his mouth. 

" Oh, Con," she summoned her sister, " do come and look ! 
It's too droll ! " 

In an instant all their four eyes were exploring the singular 
landscape of Mr. Povey's mouth. In a corner, to the right of 
that interior, was one sizeable fragment of a tooth, that was 
attached to Mr. Povey by the slenderest tie, so that at each 
respiration of Mr. Povey, when his body slightly heaved and 
the gale moaned in the cavern, this tooth moved separately, 
showing that its long connection with Mr. Povey was draw- 
ing to a close. 

" That's the one," said Sophia, pointing. " And it's as 
loose as anything. Did you ever see such a funny thing ? " 

The extreme funniness of the thing had lulled in Sophia 
the fear of Mr. Povey's sudden death. 

" I'll see how much he's taken," said Constance, pre- 
occupied, going to the mantelpiece. 

" Why, I do believe " Sophia began, and then stopped, 



THE SQUARE. 35 

glancing at the sewing-machine, which stood next to the 
sofa. 

It was a Howe sewing-machine. It had a little tool-drawer, 
and in the tool-drawer was a small pair of pliers. Constance, 
engaged in sniffing at the lees of the potion in order to esti- 
mate its probable deadliness, heard the well-known click of 
the little tool-drawer, and then she saw Sophia nearing Mr. 
Povey's mouth with the pliers. 

" Sophia ! " she exclaimed, aghast. " What in the name of 
goodness are you doing ? " 

" Nothing," said Sophia. 

The next instant Mr. Povey sprang out of his laudanum 
dream. 

" It jumps ! " he muttered ; and, after a reflective pause, 
" but it's much better." He had at any rate escaped 
death. 

Sophia's right hand was behind her back. 

Just then a hawker passed down King Street, crying mussels 
and cockles. 

" Oh ! " Sophia almost shrieked. " Do let's have mussels 
and cockles for tea ! " And she rushed to the door, and un- 
locked and opened it, regardless of the risk of draughts to 
Mr. Povey. 

In those days people often depended upon the caprices of 
hawkers for the tastiness of their teas : but it was an ad- 
venturous age, when errant knights of commerce were numer- 
ous and enterprising. You went on to your doorstep, caught 
your meal as it passed, withdrew, cooked it and ate it, quite 
in the manner of the early Briton. 

Constance was obliged to join her sister on the top step. 
Sophia descended to the second step. 

" Fresh mussels and cockles all alive oh ! " bawled the 
hawker, looking across the road in the April breeze. He was 
the celebrated Hollins, a professional Irish drunkard, aged in 
iniquity, who cheerfully saluted magistrates in the street," and 
referred to the workhouse, which he occasionally visited, as 
the Bastile. 

Sophia was trembling from head to foot. 

" What art you laughing at, you silly thing ? " Constance 
demanded. 

Sophia surreptitiously showed the pliers, which she had 
partly thrust into her pocket. Between their points was a 
most perceptible, and even recognizable, fragment of Mr. 
Povey. 

This was the crown of Sophia's career as a perpetrator of 
the unutterable. 



36 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" What ! " Constance's face showed the final contortions 
of that horrified incredulity which is forced to believe. 

Sophia nudged her violently to remind her that they were 
in the street, and also quite close to Mr. Povey. 

" Now, my little missies," said the vile Hollins. " Three- 
pence a pint, and how's your honoured mother to-day ? Yes, 
fresh, so help me God ! " 



CHAPTER II. 

THE TOOTH. 
I. 

THE two girls came up the unlighted stone staircase which 
led from Maggie's cave to the door of the parlour. Sophia,' 
foremost, was carrying a large tray, and Constance a small 
one. Constance, who had nothing 'on her tray but a teapot, 
a bowl of steaming and balmy -scented mussels and cockles, 
and a plate of hot buttered toast, went directly into the par- 
lour on the left. Sophia had in her arms the entire material 
and apparatus of a high tea for two, including eggs, jam, and . 
toast (covered with the slop-basin turned upside down), but 
not including mussels and cockles. She turned to the right, 
passed along the corridor by the cutting-out room, up two 
steps into the sheeted and shuttered gloom of the closed shop, 
up the showroom stairs, through the showroom, and so into 
the bedroom corridor. Experience had proved it easier to 
make this long detour than to round the difficult corner of 
the parlour stairs with a large loaded tray. Sophia knocked 
with the edge of the tray at the door of the principal bed- 
room. The muffled oratorical sound from within suddenly 
ceased, and the door was opened by a very tall, very thin, 
black-bearded man, who looked down at Sophia as if to 
demand what she meant by such an interruption. 

" I've brought the tea, Mr. Critchlow," said Sophia. 

And Mr. Critchlow carefully accepted the tray. 

" Is that my little Sophia ? " asked a faint voice from the 
depths of the bedroom. 

" Yes, father, ' said Sophia. 

But she did not attempt to enter the room. Mr. Critchlow 
put the tray on a white-clad chest of drawers near the door, 
and then he shut the door with no ceremony. Mr. Critchlow 
was John Baines's oldest and closest friend, though decidedly 



38 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

younger than the draper. He frequently " popped in " to 
have a word with the invalid ; but Thursday afternoon was 
his special afternoon, consecrated by him to the service of 
the sick. From two o'clock precisely till eight o'clock pre- 
cisely he took charge of John Baines, reigning autocratically 
over the bedroom. It was known that he would not tolerate 
invasions, nor even ambassadorial visits. No ! He gave up 
his weekly holiday to this business of friendship, and he must 
be allowed to conduct the business in his own way. Mrs. 
Baines herself avoided disturbing Mr. Critchlow's ministra- 
tions on her husband. She was glad to do so ; for Mr. 
Baines was never to be left alone under any circumstances, 
and the convenience of being able to rely upon the presence 
of a staid member of the Pharmaceutical Society for six hours 
of a given day every week outweighed the slight affront to 
her prerogatives as wife and house-mistress. Mr. Critchlow 
was an extremely peculiar man, but when he was in the bed- 
room she could leave the house with an easy mind. More- 
over, John Baines enjoyed these Thursday afternoons. For 
him, there was " none like Charles Critchlow." The two old 
friends experienced a sort of grim, desiccated happiness, 
cooped up together in the bedroom, secure from women and 
fools generally. How they spent the time did not seem to 
be certainly known, but the impression was that politics 
occupied them. Undoubtedly Mr. Critchlow was an ex- 
tremely peculiar man. He was a man of habits. He must 
always have the same things for his tea. Black-currant jam, 
for instance. (He called it " preserve.") The idea of offer- 
ing Mr. Critchlow a tea which did not comprise black-currant 
jam was inconceivable by the intelligence of St. Luke's 
Square. Thus for years past, in the fruit-preserving season, 
when all the house and all the shop smelt richly of fruit boil- 
ing in sugar, Mrs. Baines had filled an extra number of jars 
with black-currant jam, " because Mr. Critchlow wouldn't 
touch any other sort." 

So Sophia, faced with the shut door of the bedroom, went 
down to the parlour by the shorter route. She knew that on 
going up again, after tea, she would find the devastated tray 
on the doormat. 

Constance was helping Mr. Povey to mussels and cockles. 
And Mr. Povey still wore one of the antimacassars. It must 
have stuck to his shoulders when he sprang up from the sofa, 
woollen antimacassars being notoriously parasitic things. 
Sophia sat down, somewhat self-consciously. The serious 
Constance was also perturbed. Mr. Povey did not usually 
take tea in the house on Thursday afternoons ; his practice 



THE TOOTH. 39 

was to go out into the great, mysterious world. Never before 
had he shared a meal with the girls alone. The situation was 
indubitably unexpected, unforeseen ; it was, too, piquant, 
and what added to its piquancy was the fact that Constance 
and Sophia were, somehow, responsible for Mr. Povey. They 
felt that they were responsible for him. They had offered 
the practical sympathy of two intelligent and well-trained 
young women, born nurses by reason of their sex, and Mr. 
Povey had accepted ; he was now on their hands. Sophia's 
monstrous, sly operation in Mr. Povey's mouth did not 
cause either of them much alarm, Constance having apparently 
recovered from the first shock of it. They had discussed it 
in the kitchen while preparing the teas ; Constance's extraor- 
dinarily severe and dictatorial tone in condemning it had 
led to a certain heat. But the success of the impudent 
wrench justified it despite any irrefutable argument to the 
contrary. Mr. Povey was better already, and he evidently 
remained in ignorance of his loss. 

" Have some ? " Constance asked of Sophia, with a large 
spoon hovering over the bowl of shells. 

" Yes, please," said Sophia, positively. 

Constance well knew that she would have some, and had 
only asked from sheer nervousness. 

" Pass your plate, then." 

Now when everybody was served with mussels, cockles, 
tea, and toast, and Mr. Povey had been persuaded to cut 
the crust off his toast, and Constance had, quite unnecessarily, 
warned Sophia against the deadly green stuff in the mussels, 
and Constance had further pointed out that the evenings 
were getting longer, and Mr. Povey had agreed that they 
were, there remained nothing to say. An irksome silence 
fell on them all, and no one could lift it off. Tiny clashes of 
shell and crockery sounded with the terrible clearness of 
noises heard in the night. Each person avoided the eyes of 
the others. And both Constance and Sophia kept straighten- 
ing their bodies at intervals, and expanding their chests, and 
then looking at their plates ; occasionally a prim cough 
was discharged. It was a sad example of the difference 
between young women's dreams of social brilliance and the 
reality of life. These girls got more and more girlish, until, 
from being women at the administering of laudanum, they 
sank back to about eight years of age perfect children 
at the tea-table. 

The tension was snapped by Mr. Povey. " My God ! " 
he muttered, moved by a startling discovery to this impious 
and disgraceful oath (he, the pattern and exemplar and 



4 o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

in the presence of innocent girlhood too !). " I've swallowed 
it ! " 

" Swallowed what, Mr. Povey ? " Constance inquired. 

The tip of Mr. Povey's tongue made a careful voyage of 
inspection all round the right side of his mouth. 

Oh yes ! " he said, as if solemnly accepting the inevitable. 
" I've swallowed it ! " 

Sophia's face was now scarlet ; she seemed to be looking 
for some place to hide it. Constance could not think of 
anything to say. 

" That tooth has been loose for two years," said Mr. Povey, 
" and now I've swallowed it with a mussel." 

" Oh, Mr. Povey ! " Constance cried in confusion, and 
added, " There's one good thing, it can't hurt you any more 
now." 

" Oh ! " said Mr. Povey. " It wasn't that tooth that was 
hurting me. It's an old stump at the back that's upset 
me so this last day or two. I wish it had been." 

Sophia had her teacup close to her red face. At these 
words of Mr. Povey her cheeks seemed to fill out like plump 
apples. She dashed the cup into its saucer, spilling tea 
recklessly, and then ran from the room with stifled snorts. 

" Sophia ! " Constance protested. 

" I must just " Sophia incoherently spluttered in the 

doorway. " I shall be all right. Don't " 

Constance, who had risen, sat down again. 



II. 

Sophia fled along the passage leading to the shop and 
took refuge in the cutting-out room, a room which the 
astonishing architect had devised upon what must have been 
a backyard of one of the three constituent houses. It was 
lighted from its roof, and only a wooden partition, eight 
feet high, separated it from the passage. Here Sophia gave 
rein to her feelings ; she laughed and cried together, weeping 
generously into her handkerchief and wildly giggling, in a 
hysteria which she could not control. The spectacle of 
Mr. Povey mourning for a tooth which he thought he had 
swallowed, but which in fact lay all the time in her pocket, 
seemed to her to be by far the most ridiculous, side-splitting 
thing that had ever happened or could happen on earth. 
It utterly overcame her. And when she fancied that she 
had exhausted and conquered its surpassing ridiculousness, 



THE TOOTH. 41 

this ridiculousness seized her again and rolled her anew in 
depths of mad, trembling laughter. 

Gradually she grew calmer. She heard the parlour door 
open, and Constance descend the kitchen steps with a 
rattling tray of tea-things. Tea, then, was finished, without 
her ! Constance did not remain in the kitchen, because the 
cups and saucers were left for Maggie to wash up as a fitting 
coda to Maggie's monthly holiday. The parlour door closed. 
And the vision of Mr. Povey in his antimacassar swept Sophia 
off into another convulsion of laughter and tears. Upon 
this the parlour door opened again, and Sophia choked 
herself into silence while Constance hastened along the 
passage. In a minute Constance returned with her woolwork, 
which she had got from the showroom, and the parlour 
received her. Not the least curiosity on the part of Constance 
as to what had become of Sophia 1 

At length Sophia, a faint meditative smile being all that 
was left of the storm in her, ascended slowly to the show- 
room, through the shop. Nothing there of interest ! Thence 
she wandered towards the drawing-room, and encountered 
Mr. Critchlow's tray on the mat. She picked it up and 
carried it by way of the showroom and shop down to the 
kitchen, where she dreamily munched two pieces of toast 
that had cooled to the consistency of leather. She mounted 
the stone steps and listened at the door of the parlour. No 
sound 1 This seclusion of Mr. Povey and Constance was 
really very strange. She roved right round the house, and 
descended creepingly by the twisted house-stairs, and listened 
intently at the other door of the parlour. She now de- 
tected a faint regular snore. Mr. Povey, a prey to laudanum 
and mussels, was sleeping while Constance worked at her 
firescreen ! It was now in the highest degree odd, this 
seclusion of Mr. Povey and Constance ; unlike anything 
in Sophia's experience ! She wanted to go into the parlour, 
but she could not bring herself to do so. She crept away 
again, forlorn and puzzled, and next discovered herself 
in the bedroom which she shared with Constance at the 
top of the house ; she lay down in the dusk on the bed 
and began to read " The Days of Bruce ; " but she read only 
with her eyes. 

Later, she heard movements on the house-stairs, and the 
familiar whining creak of the door at the foot thereof. She 
skipped lightly to the door of the bedroom. 

" Good-night, Mr. Povey. I hope you'll be able to sleep." 

Constance's voice ! 

" It will probably come on again." 

2 a 



42 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Mr. Povey's voice, pessimistic ! 

Then the shutting of doors. It was almost dark. She 
went back to the bed, expecting a visit from Constance. 
But a clock struck eight, and all the various phenomena 
connected with the departure of Mr. Critchlow occurred 
one after another. At the same time Maggie came home 
from the land of romance. Then long silences ! Constance 
was now immured with her father, it being her "turn" to 
nurse. Maggie was washing up in her cave, and Mr. Povey 
was lost to sight in his bedroom. Then Sophia heard her 
mother's lively, commanding knock on the King Street 
door. Dusk had definitely yielded to black night in the 
bedroom. Sophia dozed and dreamed. When she awoke, 
her ear caught the sound of knocking. She jumped up, 
tiptoed to the landing, and looked over the balustrade, 
whence she had a view of all the first-floor corridor. The 
gas had been lighted ; through the round aperture at the 
top of the porcelain globe she could see the wavering flame. 
It was her mother, still bonneted, who was knocking at the 
door of Mr. Povey's room. Constance stood in the doorway 
of her parents' room. Mrs. Baines knocked twice with an 
interval, and then said to Constance, in a resonant whisper 
that vibrated up the corridor 

" He seems to be fast asleep. I'd better not disturb him." 

" But suppose he wants something in the night ? " 

" Well, child, I should hear him moving. Sleep's the best 
thing for him." 

Mrs. Baines left Mr. Povey to the effects of laudanum, 
and came along the corridor. She was a stout woman, all 
black stuff and gold chain, and her skirt more than filled 
the width of the corridor. Sophia watched her habitual 
heavy mounting gesture as she climbed the two steps that 
gave variety to the corridor. At the gas-jet she paused, 
and, putting her hand to the tap, gazed up into the globe. 

" Where's Sophia ? " she demanded, her eyes fixed on the 
gas as she lowered the flame. 

" I think she must be in bed, mother," said Constance, 
nonchalantly. 

The returned mistress was point by point resuming know- 
ledge and control of that complicated machine her house- 
hold. 

Then Constance and her mother disappeared into the 
bedroom, and the door was shut with a gentle, decisive bang 
that to the silent watcher on the floor above seemed to create 
a special excluding ^intimacy round about the figures of 
Constance and her father and mother. The watcher won- 



THE TOOTH. 43 

dered, with a little prick of jealousy, what they would be dis- 
cussing in the large bedroom, her father's beard wagging 
feebly and his long arms on the counterpane, Constance 
perched at the foot of the bed, and her mother walking to and 
fro, putting her cameo brooch on the dressing-table or stretch- 
ing creases out of her gloves. Certainly, in some subtle way, 
Constance had a standing with her parents which was more 
confidential than Sophia's. 



III. 

When Constance came to bed, half an hour later, Sophia 
was already in bed. The room was fairly spacious. It 
had been the girls' retreat and fortress since their earliest 
years. Its features seemed to them as natural and un- 
alterable as the features of a cave to a cave-dweller. It had 
been repapered twice in their lives, and each papering stood 
out in their memories like an epoch ; a third epoch was 
due to the replacing of a drugget by a resplendent old carpet 
degraded from the drawing-room. There was only one 
bed, the bedstead being of painted iron ; they never inter- 
fered with each other in that bed, sleeping with a detach- 
ment as perfect as if they had slept on opposite sides of St. 
Luke's Square ; yet if Constance had one night lain down 
on the half near the window instead of on the half near the 
door, the secret nature of the universe would have seemed 
to be altered. The smaU fire-grate was filled with a mass 
of shavings of silver paper ; now the rare illnesses which 
they had suffered were recalled chiefly as periods when that 
silver paper was crammed into a large slipper-case which 
hung by the mantelpiece, and a fire of coals unnaturally 
reigned in its place the silver paper was part of the order 
of the world. The sash of the window would not work 
quite properly, owing to a slight subsidence in the wall, 
and even when the window was fastened there was always 
a narrow slit to the left hand between the window and its 
frame ; through this slit came draughts, and thus very keen 
frosts were remembered by the nights when Mrs. Baines 
caused the sash to be forced and kept at its full height by 
means of wedges the slit of exposure was part of the order 
of the world. 

They possessed only one bed, one washstand, and one 
dressing-table ; but in some other respects they were rather 
fortunate girls, for they had two mahogany wardrobes ; 
this mutual independence as regards wardrobes was due 



44 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

partly to Mrs. Baines's strong commonsense, and partly to 
their father's tendency to spoil them a little. They had, 
moreover, a chest of drawers with a curved front, of which 
structure Constance occupied two short drawers and one 
long one, and Sophia two long drawers. On it stood two 
fancy work-boxes, in which each sister kept jewellery, a 
savings-bank book, and other treasures, and these boxes 
were absolutely sacred to their respective owners. They 
were different, but one was not more magnificent than the 
other. Indeed, a rigid equality was the rule in the chamber, 
the single exception being that behind the door were three 
hooks, of which Constance commanded two. 

" Well," Sophia began, when Constance appeared. " How's 
darling Mr. Povey ? " She was lying on her back, and 
smiling at her two hands, which she held up in front of her. 

" Asleep," said Constance. " At least mother thinks so. 
She says sleep is the best thing for him." 

' It will probably come on again,' " said Sophia. 

" What's that you say ? " Constance asked, undressing. 
' It will probably come on again.' ' 

These words were a quotation from the utterances of 
darling Mr. Povey on the stairs, and Sophia delivered them 
with an exact imitation of Mr. Povey's vocal mannerism. 

" Sophia," said Constance, firmly, approaching the bed. 
" I wish you wouldn't be so silly ! " She had benevolently 
ignored the satirical note in Sophia's first remark, but a 
strong instinct in her rose up and objected to further derision. 
" Surely you've done enough for one day ! " she added. 

For answer Sophia exploded into violent laughter, which 
she made no attempt to control. She laughed too long 
and too freely while Constance stared at her. 

" / don't know what's come over you ! " said Constance. 

" It's only because I can't look at it without simply going 
off into fits ! " Sophia gasped out. And she held up a tiny 
object in her left hand. 

Constance started, flushing. " You don't mean to say 
you've kept it ! " she protested earnestly. " How horrid 
you are, Sophia ! Give it me at once and let me throw it 
away. I never heard of such doings. Now give it me 1 " k 

" No," Sophia objected, still laughing. " I wouldn't part 
with it for worlds. It's too lovely." 

She had laughed away all her secret resentment against 
Constance for having ignored her during the whole evening 
and for being on such intimate terms with their parents. 
And she was ready to be candidly jolly with Constance. 

" Give it me," said Constance, doggedly. 



THE TOOTH. 45 

Sophia hid her hand under the clothes. " You can have 
his old stump, when it comes out, if you like. But not this. 
What a pity it's the wrong one ! " 

" Sophia, I'm ashamed of you ! Give it me." 

Then it was that Sophia first perceived Constance's extreme 
seriousness. She was surprised and a little intimidated by 
it. For the expression of Constance's face, usually so benign 
and calm, was harsh, almost fierce. However, Sophia had 
a great deal of what is called " spirit," and not even ferocity 
on the face of mild Constance could intimidate her for more 
than a few seconds. Her gaiety expired and her teeth vrere 
hidden. 

" I've said nothing to mother " Constance proceeded. 

" I should hope you haven't," Sophia put in tersely. 

" But I certainly shall if you don't throw that away," 
Constance finished. 

" You can say what you like," Sophia retorted, adding 
contemptuously a term of opprobrium which has long since 
passed out of use : " Cant ! " 

" Will you give it me or won't you ? " 

" No ! * 

It was a battle suddenly engaged in the bedroom. The 
atmosphere had altered completely with the swiftness of 
magic. The beauty of Sophia, the angelic tenderness of 
Constance, and the youthful, naive, innocent charm of both 
'of them, were transformed into something sinister and 
cruel. Sophia lay back on the pillow amid her dark-brown 
hair, and gazed with relentless defiance into the angry eyes 
of Constance, who stood threatening by the bed. They could 
hear the gas singing over the dressing-table, and their hearts 
beating the blood wildly in their veins. They ceased to be 
young without growing old ; the eternal had leapt up in 
them from its sleep. 

Constance walked away from the bed to the dressing- 
table and began to loose her hair and brush it, holding back 
her head, shaking it, and bending forward, in the changeless 
gesture of that rite. She was so disturbed that she had 
unconsciously reversed the customary order of the toilette. 
After a moment Sophia slipped out of bed and, stepping 
with her bare feet to the chest of drawers, opened her work- 
box and deposited the fragment of Mr. Povey therein ; she 
dropped the lid with an uncompromising bang, as if to say, 
" We shall see if I am to be trod upon, miss ! " Their 
eyes met again in the looking-glass. Then Sophia got back 
into bed. 

Five minutes later, when her hair was quite finished, 



46 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Constance knelt down and said her prayers. Having said 
her prayers, she went straight to Sophia's work-box, opened 
it, seized the fragment of Mr. Povey, ran to the window, and 
frantically pushed the fragment through the slit into the 
square. 

" There ! " she exclaimed nervously. 

She had accomplished this inconceivable transgression of 
the code of honour, beyond all undoing, before Sophia could 
recover from the stupefaction of seeing her sacred work-box 
impudently violated. In a single moment one of Sophia's 
chief ideals had been smashed utterly, and that by the sweet- 
est, gentlest creature she had ever known. It was a reveal- 
ing experience for Sophia and also for Constance. And 
it frightened them equally. Sophia, staring at the text, 
" Thou God seest me," framed in straw over the chest of 
drawers, did not stir. She was defeated, and so profoundly 
moved in her defeat that she did not even reflect upon the 
obvious inefficacy of illuminated texts as a deterrent from 
evil-doing. Not that she cared a fig for the fragment of 
Mr. Povey ! It was the moral aspect of the affair, and the 
astounding, inexplicable development in Constance's char- 
acter, that staggered her into silent acceptance of the inevi- 
table. 

Constance, trembling, took pains to finish undressing with 
dignified deliberation. Sophia's behaviour under the blow 
seemed too good to be true ; but it gave her courage. At 
length she turned out the gas and lay down by Sophia. And 
there was a little shuffling, and then stillness for a while. 

" And if you want to know," said Constance in a tone that 
mingled amicableness with righteousness, " mother's decided 
with AunfHarriet that we are both to leave school next term." 



CHAPTER III. 

A BATTLE. 
I. 

THE day sanctioned by custom in the Five Towns for the 
making of pastry is Saturday. But Mrs. Baines made her 
pastry on Friday, because Saturday afternoon was, of course, 
a busy time in the shop. It is true that Mrs. Baines made her 
pastry in the morning, and that Saturday morning in the shop 
was scarcely different from any other morning. Neverthe- 
less, Mrs. Baines made her pastry on Friday morning instead 
of Saturday morning because Saturday afternoon was a busy 
time in the shop. She was thus free to do her marketing with- 
out breath-taking flurry on Saturday morning. 

On the morning after Sophia's first essay in dentistry, 
therefore, Mrs. Baines was making her pastry in the under- 
ground kitchen. This kitchen, Maggie's cavern-home, had 
the mystery of a church, and on dark days it had the mystery 
of a crypt. The stone steps leading down to it from the level 
of earth were quite unlighted. You felt for them with the feet 
of faith, and when you arrived in the kitchen, the kitchen, 
by contrast, seemed luminous and gay; the architect may 
have considered and intended this effect of the staircase. 
The kitchen saw day through a wide, shallow window whose 
top touched the ceiling and whose bottom had been out of 
the girls' reach until long after they had begun to go to 
school. Its panes were small, and about half of them were of 
the " knot " kind, through which no object could be distin- 
guished ; the other half were of a later date, and stood for 
the march of civilization. The view from the window con- 
sisted of the vast plate-glass windows of the newly built Sun 
vaults, and of passing legs and skirts. A strong wire grating 
prevented any excess of illumination, and also protected the 
glass from the caprices of wayfarers in King Street. Boys 



48 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

had a habit of stopping to kick with their full strength at the 
grating. 

Forget-me-nots on a brown field ornamented the walls of 
the kitchen. Its ceiling was irregular and grimy, and a beam 
ran across it ; in this beam were two hooks ; from these 
hooks had once depended the ropes of a swing, much used by 
Constance and Sophia in the old days before they were grown 
up. A large range stood out from the wall between the stairs 
and the window. The rest of the furniture comprised a 
table against the wall opposite the range a cupboard, and 
two Windsor chairs. Opposite the foot of the steps was a 
doorway, without a door, leading to' two larders, dimmer even 
than the kitchen, vague retreats made visible by whitewash, 
where bowls of milk, dishes of cold bones, and remainders of 
fruit-pies, reposed on stillages ; in the corner nearest the 
kitchen was a great steen in which the bread was kept. An- 
other doorway on the other side of the kitchen led to the first 
coal-cellar, where was also the slopstone and tap, and thence 
a tunnel took you to the second coal-cellar, where coke and 
ashes were stored ; the tunnel proceeded to a distant, infini- 
tesimal yard, and from the yard, by ways behind Mr. Critch- 
low's shop, you could finally emerge, astonished, upon 
Brougham Street. The sense of the vast -obscure of those 
regions which began at the top of the kitchen steps and ended 
in black corners of larders or abruptly in the common daili- 
ness of Brougham Street, a sense which Constance and Sophia 
had acquired in infancy, remained with them almost unim- 
paired as they grew old. 

Mrs. Baines wore black alpaca, shielded by a white apron 
whose string drew attention to the amplitude of her waist. 
Her sleeves were turned up, and her hands, as far as the 
knuckles, covered with damp flour. Her ageless smooth 
paste-board occupied a corner of the table, and near it were 
her paste-roller, butter, some pie-dishes, shredded apples, 
sugar, and other things. Those rosy hands were at work 
among a sticky substance in a large white bowl. 

" Mother, are you there ? " she heard a voice from above. 

" Yes, my chuck." 

Footsteps apparently reluctant and hesitating clinked on 
the stairs, and Sophia entered the kitchen. 

" Put this curl straight," said Mrs. Baines, lowering her 
head slightly and holding up her floured hands, which might 
not touch anything but flour. " Thank you. It bothered 
me. And now stand out of my light. I'm in a hurry. I 
must get into the shop so that I can send Mr. Povey off to the 
dentist's. What is Constance doing ? " 



A BATTLE. 49 

" Helping Maggie to make Mr. Povey's bed." 

" Oh ! " 

Though fat, Mrs. Baines was a comely woman, with fine 
brown hair, and confidently calm eyes that indicated her belief 
in her own capacity to accomplish whatever she could be 
called on to accomplish. She looked neither more nor less 
than her age, which was forty-five. She was not a native of 
the district, having been culled by her husband from the 
moorland town of Axe, twelve miles off. Like nearly all 
women who settle in a strange land upon marriage, at the 
bottom of her heart she had considered herself just a trifle 
superior to the strange land and its ways. This feeling, 
confirmed by long experience, had never left her. It was 
this feeling which induced her to continue making her own 
pastry with two thoroughly trained " great girls " in the 
house ! Constance could make good pastry, but it was not 
her mother's pastry. In pastry-making everything can be 
taught except the " hand," light and firm, which wields the 
roller. One is born with this hand, or without it. And if 
one is born without it, the highest flights of pastry are impos- 
sible. Constance was born without it. There were days when 
Sophia seemed to possess it ; but there were other days when 
Sophia's pastry was uneatable by any one except Maggie. 
Thus Mrs. Baines, though intensely proud and fond of her 
daughters, had justifiably preserved a certain condescension 
towards them. She honestly doubted whether either of them 
would develop into the equal of their mother. 

" Now you little vixen ! " she exclaimed. Sophia was steal- 
ing and eating slices of half -cooked apple. " This comes of 
having no breakfast ! And why didn't you come down to 
supper last night ? " 

" I don't know. I forgot." 

Mrs. Baines scrutinized the child's eyes, which met hers 
with a sort of diffident boldness. She knew everything that 
a mother can know of a daughter, and she was sure that 
Sophia had no cause to be indisposed. Therefore she scru- 
tinized those eyes with a faint apprehension. 

" If you can't find anything better to do," said she, " but- 
ter me the inside of this dish. Are your hands clean ? No, 
better not touch it." 

Mrs. Baines was now at the stage of depositing little pats of 
butter in rows on a large plain of paste. The best fresh 
butter ! Cooking butter, to say naught of lard, was unknown 
in that kitchen on Friday mornings. She doubled the ex- 
panse of paste on itself and rolled the butter in supreme 
operation ! 



5 o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Constance has told you about leaving school ? " said Mrs. 
Baines, in the vein of small-talk, as she trimmed the paste 
to the shape of a pie-dish. 

" Yes," Sophia replied shortly. Then she moved away 
from the table to the range. There was a toasting-fork on 
the rack, and she began to play with it. 

" Well, are you glad ? Your aunt Harriet thinks you are 
quite old enough to leave. And as we'd decided in any case 
that Constance was to leave, it's really much simpler that 
you should both leave together." 

" Mother," said Sophia, rattling the toasting-fork, " what 
am I going to do after I've left school ? " 

" I hope," Mrs. Baines answered with that sententiousnesa 
which even the cleverest of parents are not always clever 
enough to deny themselves, " I hope that both of you will do 
what you can to help your mother and father," she added. 

" Yes," said Sophia, irritated. " But what am I going to 
do ? " 

" That must be considered. As Constance is to learn the 
millinery, I've been thinking that you might begin to make 
yourself useful in the underwear, gloves, silks, and so on. 
Then between you, you would one day be able to manage quite 
nicely all that side of the shop, and I should be " 

" I don't want to go into the shop, mother." 

This interruption was made in a voice apparently cold and 
inimical. But Sophia trembled with nervous excitement as 
she uttered the words. Mrs. Baines gave a brief glance at 
her, unobserved by the child, whose face was towards the 
fire. She deemed herself a finished expert in the reading of 
Sophia's moods ; nevertheless, as she looked at that straight 
back and proud head, she had no suspicion that the whole 
essence and being of Sophia was silently but intensely im- 
ploring sympathy. 

" I wish you would be quiet with that fork," said Mrs. 
Baines, with the curious, grim politeness which often charac- 
terized her relations with her daughters. 

The toasting-fork fell on the brick floor, after having re- 
bounded from the ash-tin. Sophia hurriedly replaced it on 
the rack. 

" Then what shall you do ? " Mrs. Baines proceeded, con- 
quering the annoyance caused by the toasting-fork. " I 
think it's me that should ask you instead of you asking me. 
What shall you do ? Your father and I were both hoping 
you would take kindly to the shop and try to repay us for all 
the" 

Mrs. Baines was unfortunate in her phrasing that morning. 



A BATTLE. 51 

She happened to be, in truth, rather an exceptional parent, 
but that morning she seemed unable to avoid the absurd 
pretensions which parents of those days assumed quite sin- 
cerely and \vhich every good child with meekness accepted. 

Sophia was not a good child, and she obstinately denied in 
her heart the cardinal principle of family life, namely, that 
the parent has conferred on the offspring a supreme favour 
by bringing it into the world. She interrupted her mother 
again, rudely. 

" I don't want to leave school at all," she said passion- 
ately. 

" But you will have to leave school sooner or later," argued 
Mrs. Baines, with an air of quiet reasoning, of putting her- 
self on a level with Sophia. " You can't stay at school for 
ever, my pet, can you ? Out of my way ! " 

She hurried across the kitchen with a pie, which she whipped 
into the oven, shutting the iron door with a careful gesture. 

" Yes," said Sophia. " I should like to be a teacher. 
That's what I want to be." 

The tap in the coal-cellar, out of repair, could be heard 
distinctly and systematically dropping water into a jar on the 
slopstone. 

" A school-teacher ? " inquired Mrs. Baines. 

" Of course. What other kind is there ? " said Sophia, 
sharply. " With Miss Chetwynd." 

" I don't think your father would like that," Mrs. Baines 
replied. " I'm sure he wouldn't like it." 

'" Why not ? " 

" It wouldn't be quite suitable." 

" Why not, mother ? " the girl demanded with a sort of 
ferocity. She had now quitted the range. A man's feet 
twinkled past the window. 

Mrs. Baines was startled and surprised. Sophia's attitude 
was really very trying ; her manners deserved correction. 
But it was not these phenomena which seriously affected Mrs. 
Baines ; she was used to them and had come to regard them 
as somehow the inevitable accompaniment of Sophia's beauty, 
as the penalty of that surpassing charm which occasionally 
emanated from the girl like a radiance. What startled and 
surprised Mrs. Baines was the perfect and unthinkable mad- 
ness of Sophia's infantile scheme. It was a revelation to 
Mrs. Baines. Why in the name of heaven had the girl taken 
such a notion into her head ? Orphans, widows, and spin- 
sters of a certain age suddenly thrown on the world these 
were the women who, naturally, became teachers, because 
they had to become something. But that the daughter of 



5 2 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

comfortable parents, surrounded by love and the pleasures 
of an excellent home, should wish to teach in a school was 
beyond the horizons of Mrs. Baines's common sense. Com- 
fortable parents of to-day who have a difficulty in sympathiz- 
ing with Mrs. Baines, should picture what their feelings would 
be if their Sophias showed a rude desire to adopt the vocation 
of chauffeur. 

" It would take you too much away from home," said Mrs. 
Baines, achieving a second pie. 

She spoke softly. The experience of being Sophia's mother 
for nearly sixteen years had not been lost on Mrs. Baines, 
and though she was now discovering undreamt-of dangers in 
Sophia's erratic temperament, she kept her presence of mind 
sufficiently well to behave with diplomatic smoothness. It 
was undoubtedly humiliating to a mother to be forced to use 
diplomacy in dealing with a girl in short sleeves. In her day 
mothers had been autocrats. But Sophia was Sophia. 

" What if it did ? " Sophia curtly demanded. 

" And there's no opening in Bursley," said Mrs. Baines. 

" Miss Chetwynd would have me, and then after a time I 
could go to her sister." 

" Her sister ? What sister ? " 

" Her sister that has a big school ha London somewhere." 

Mrs. Baines covered her unprecedented emotions by gazing 
into the oven at the first pie. The pie was doing weU, under 
all the circumstances. In those few seconds she reflected 
rapidly and decided that to a desperate disease a desperate 
remedy must be applied. 

London ! She herself had never been further than Man- 
chester. London, " after a time " 1 No, diplomacy would 
be misplaced in this crisis of Sophia's development ! 

" Sophia," she said, in a changed and solemn voice, fronting 
her daughter, and holding away from her apron those floured, 
ringed hands, " I don't know what has come over you. Truly 
I don't I Your father and I are prepared to put up with a 
certain amount, but the line must be drawn. The fact is, 
we've spoilt you, and instead of getting better as you grow up, 
you're getting worse. Now let me hear no more of this, 
please. I wish you would imitate your sister- a little more. 
Of course if you won't do your share in the shop, no one can 
make you. If you choose to be an idler about the house, we 
shall have to endure it. We can only advise you for your 
own good. But as for this . . ." She stopped, and let 
silence speak, and then finished : " Let me hear no more 
of it." 

It was a powerful and impressive speech enunciated clearly 



A BATTLE. 53 

in such a tone as Mrs. Baines had not employed since dismiss- 
ing a young lady assistant five years ago for light conduct. 

" But, mother " 

A commotion of pails resounded at the top of the stone 
steps. It was Maggie in descent from the bedrooms. Now, 
the Baines family passed its life in doing its best to keep its 
affairs to itself, the assumption being that Maggie and all the 
shop-staff (Mr. Povey possibly excepted) were obsessed by a 
ravening appetite for that which did not concern them. 
Therefore the voices of the Baineses always died away or fell 
to a hushed, mysterious whisper whenever the foot of the 
eavesdropper was heard. 

Mrs. Baines put a floured finger to her double chin. " That 
will do," said she, with finality. 

Maggie appeared, and Sophia, with a brusque precipitation 
of herself, vanished upstairs. 



II. 

" Now, really, Mr. Povey, this is not like you," said Mrs. 
Baines, who, on her way into the shop, had discovered the 
Indispensable in the cutting-out room. 

It is true that the cutting-out room was almost Mr. Povey's 
sanctum, whither he retired from time to time to cut out suits 
of clothes and odd garments for the tailoring department. 
It is true that the tailoring department flourished with orders, 
employing several tailors who crossed legs in their own homes, 
and that appointments were continually being made with 
customers for trying-on in that room. But these considera- 
tions did not affect Mrs. Baines's attitude of disapproval. 

" I'm just cutting out that suit for the minister," said Mr. 
Povey. 

The Reverend Mr. Murley, superintendent of the Wesleyan 
Methodist circuit, called on Mr. Baines every week. On a 
recent visit Mr. Baines had remarked that the parson's coat 
was ageing into green, and had commanded that a new suit 
should be built and presented to Mr. Murley. Mr. Murley, 
who had a genuine mediaeval passion for souls, and who spent 
his money and health freely in gratifying the passion, had 
accepted the offer strictly on behalf of Christ, and had care- 
fully explained to Mr. Povey Christ's use for multifarious 
pockets. 

" I see you are," said Mrs. Baines tartly. " But that's no 
reason why you should be without a coat and in this cold 
room too. You with toothache ! " 



54 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

The fact was that Mr. Povey always doffed his coat when 
cutting out. Instead of a coat he wore a tape-measure. 

" My tooth doesn't hurt me," said he, sheepishly, dropping 
the great scissors and picking up a cake of chalk. 

" Fiddlesticks ! " said Mrs. Baines. 

This exclamation shocked Mr. Povey. It was not unknown 
on the lips of Mrs. Baines, but she usually reserved it for mem- 
bers of her own sex. Mr. Povey could not recall that she 
had ever applied it to any statement of his. " What's the 
matter with the woman ? " he thought. The redness of her 
face did not help him to answer the question, for her face was 
always red after the operations of Friday in the kitchen. 

" You men are all alike," Mrs. Baines continued. " The 
very thought of the dentist's cures you. Why don't you go 
in at once to Mr. Critchlow and have it out like a man ? " 

Mr. Critchlow extracted teeth, and his shop sign said 
" Bonesetter and chemist." But Mr. Povey had his views. 

" I make no account of Mr. Critchlow as a dentist," 
said he. 

" Then for goodness' sake go up to Oulsnam's." 

" When ? I can't very well go now, and to-morrow is 
Saturday." 

" Why can't you go now ? " 

" Well, of course, I could go now," he admitted. 

" Let me advise you to go, then, and don't come back 
with that tooth in your head. I shall be having you laid 
up next. Show some pluck, do ! " 

" Oh ! pluck ! " he protested, hurt. 

At that moment Constance came down the passage singing. 

" Constance, my pet ! " Mrs. Baines called. 

" Yes, mother." She put her head into the room. " Oh ! " 
Mr. Povey was assuming his coat. 

" Mr. Povey is going to the dentist's." 

" Yes, I'm going at once," Mr. Povey confirmed. 

" Oh ! I'm so glad ! " Constance exclaimed. Her face 
expressed a pure sympathy, uncomplicated by critical senti- 
ments. Mr. Povey rapidly bathed in that sympathy, and 
then decided that he must show himself a man of oak and iron. 

" It's always best to get these things done with," said he, 
with stern detachment. " I'll just slip my overcoat on." 

" Here it is," said Constance, quickly. Mr. Povey's over- 
coat and hat were hung on a hook immediately outside the 
room, in the passage. She gave him the overcoat, anxious 
to be of service. 

" I didn't call you in here to be Mr. Povey's valet," said 
Mrs. Baines to herself with mild grimness ; and aloud : "I 



A BATTLE. 55 

can't stay in the shop long, Constance, but you can be there, 
can't you, till Mr. Povey comes back ? And if anything hap- 
pens run upstairs and tell me." 

" Yes, mother," Constance eagerly consented. She hesi- 
tated and then turned to obey at once. 

" I want to speak to you first, my pet," Mrs. Baines stopped 
her. And her tone was peculiar, charged with import, confi- 
dential, and therefore very flattering to Constance. 

" I think I'll go out by the side-door," said Mr. Povey. 
" It'll be nearer. 

This was truth. He would save about ten yards, in two 
miles, by going out through the side-door instead of through 
the shop. Who could have guessed that he was ashamed to 
be seen going to the dentist's, afraid lest, if he went through 
the shop, Mrs. Baines might follow him and utter some remark 
prejudicial to his dignity before the assistants ? (Mrs. Baines 
could have guesse.d, and did.) 

" You won't want that tape-measure," said Mrs. Baines, 
dryly, as Mr. Povey dragged open the side-door. The ends of 
the forgotten tape-measure were dangling beneath coat and 
overcoat. 

" Oh ! " Mr. Povey scowled at his forgetfulness. 

"I'll put it in its place," said Constance, offering to receive 
the tape-measure. 

" Thank you," said Mr. Povey, gravely. " I don't sup- 
pose they'll be long over my bit of a job," he added, with a 
difficult, miserable smile. 

Then he went off down King Street, with an exterior of gay 
briskness and dignified joy in the fine May morning. But 
there was no May morning in his cowardly human heart. 

" Hi ! Povey ! " cried a voice from the Square. 

But Mr. Povey disregarded all appeals. He had put his 
hand to the plough, and he would not look back. 

" Hi ! Povey ! " 

Useless ! 

Mrs. Baines and Constance were both at the door. A 
middle-aged man was crossing the road from Boulton Terrace, 
the lofty erection of new shops which the envious rest of the 
Square had decided to call " showy." He waved a hand to 
Mrs. Baines, who kept the door open. 

" It's Dr. Harrop," she said to Constance. " I shouldn't 
be surprised if that baby's come at last, and he wanted to 
tell Mr. Povey." 

Constance blushed, full of pride. Mrs. Povey, wife of 
" our Mr. Povey 's " renowned cousin, the high-class confec- 
tioner and baker in Boulton Terrace, was a frequent subject 



56 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

of discussion in the Baines family, but this was absolutely 
the first time that Mrs. Baines had acknowledged, in presence 
of Constance, the marked and growing change which had 
characterized Mrs. Povey's condition during recent months. 
Such frankness on the part of her mother, coming after the 
decision about leaving school, proved indeed that Constance 
had ceased to be a mere girl. 

" Good morning, doctor." 

The doctor, who carried a little bag and wore riding- 
breeches (he was the last doctor in Bursley to abandon the 
saddle for the dog-cart), saluted and straightened his high, 
black stock. 

" Morning ! Morning, missy ! Well, it's a boy." 

" What ? Yonder ? " asked Mrs. Baines, indicating the 
confectioner's. 

Dr. Harrop nodded. " I wanted to inform him," said he, 
jerking his shoulder in the direction of the swaggering coward. 

" What did I tell you, Constance ? " 'said Mrs. Baines, 
turning to her daughter. 

Constance's confusion was equal to her pleasure. The alert 
doctor had halted at the foot of the two steps, and with one 
hand in the pocket of his " full-fall " breeches, he gazed up, 
smiling, out of little eyes, at the ample matron and the slender 
virgin. 

" Yes," he said. " Been up most of th' night. Difficult ! 
Difficult ! " 

" It's all right, I hope ? " 

" Oh yes. Fine child ! Fine child ! But he put his 
mother to some trouble, for all that. Nothing fresh ? " 
This time he lifted his eyes to indicate Mr. Baines's bedroom. 

" No," said Mrs. Baines, with a different expression. 

" Keeps cheerful ? " 

" Yes." 

" Good ! A very good morning to you." 

He strode off towards his house, which was lower down 
the street. 

" I hope she'll turn over a new leaf now," observed Mrs. 
Baines to Constance as she closed the door. Constance knew 
that her mother was referring to the confectioner's wife ; 
she gathered that the hope was slight in the extreme. 

" What did you want to speak to me about, mother ? " 
she asked, as a way out of her delicious confusion. 

" Shut that door," Mrs. Baines replied, pointing to the door 
which led to the passage ; and while Constance obeyed, Mrs. 
Baines herself shut the staircase-door. She then said, in a 
low, guarded voice 



A BATTLE. 57 

" What's all this about Sophia wanting to be a school- 
teacher ? " 

" Wanting to be a school-teacher ? " Constance repeated, in 
tones of amazement. 

" Yes. Hasn't she said anything to you ? " 

" Not a word ! " 

" Well, I never ! She wants to keep on with Miss Chet- 
wynd and be a teacher." Mrs. Baines had half a mind to add 
that Sophia had mentioned London. But she restrained 
herself. There are some things which one cannot bring one's 
self to say. She added, " Instead of going into the shop ! " 

" I never heard of such a thing 1 " Constance murmured 
brokenly, in the excess of her astonishment. She was rolling 
up Mr. Povey's tape-measure. 

" Neither did 1 1 " said Mrs. Baines. 

" And shall you let her, mother ? " 

" Neither your father nor I would ever dream of it ! " Mrs. 
Baines replied, with calm and yet terrible decision. " I only 
mentioned it to you because I thought Sophia would have told 
you something." 

" No, mother ! " 

As Constance put Mr. Povey's tape-measure neatly away 
in its drawer under the cutting-out counter, she thought how 
serious life was what with babies and Sophias. She was 
very proud of her mother's confidence in her ; this simple 
pride filled her ardent breast with a most agreeable commo- 
tion. And she wanted to help everybody, to show in some 
way how much she sympathized with and loved everybody. 
Even the madness of Sophia did not weaken her longing to 
comfort Sophia. 

III. 

That afternoon there was a search for Sophia, whom no one 
had seen since dinner. She was discovered by her mother, 
sitting alone and unoccupied in the drawing-room. The cir- 
cumstance was in itself sufficiently peculiar, for on weekdays 
the drawing-room was never used, even by the girls during 
their holidays, except for the purpose of playing the piano. 
However, Mrs. Baines offered no comment on Sophia's geo- 
graphical situation, nor on her idleness. 

" My dear," she said, standing at the door, with a self-con- 
scious effort to behave as though nothing had happened, "will 
you come and sit with your father a bit ? " 

" Yes, mother," answered Sophia, with a sort of cold 
alacrity. 



58 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Sophia is coming, father," said Mrs. Baines at the open 
door of the bedroom, which was at right-angles with, and close 
to, the drawing-room door. Then she surged swishing along 
the corridor and went into the showroom, whither she had 
been called. 

Sophia passed to the bedroom, the eternal prison of John 
Baines. Although, on account of his nervous restlessness, 
Mr. Baines was never left alone, it was not a part of the usual 
duty of the girls to sit with him. The person who undertook 
the main portion of the vigils was a certain Aunt Maria 
whom the girls knew to be not a real aunt, not a powerful, 
effective aunt like Aunt Harriet of Axe but a poor second 
cousin of John Baines ; one of those necessitous, pitiful rela- 
tives who so often make life difficult for a great family in a 
small town. The existence of Aunt Maria, after being rather 
a " trial " to the Baineses, had for twelve years past devel- 
oped into something absolutely " providential " for them. 
(It is to be remembered that in those days Providence was still 
busying himself with everybody's affairs, and foreseeing the 
future in the most extraordinary manner. Thus, having 
foreseen that John Baines would have a " stroke " and need 
a faithful, tireless nurse, he had begun fifty years in advance 
by creating Aunt Maria, and had kept her carefully in misfor- 
tune's way, so that at the proper moment she would be ready 
to cope with the stroke. Such at least is the only theory 
which will explain the use by the Baineses, and indeed by all 
thinking Bursley, of the word " providential " in connection 
with Aunt Maria.) She was a shrivelled little woman, capable 
of sitting twelve hours a day in a bedroom and thriving on 
the regime. At nights she went home to her little cottage in 
Brougham Street ; she had her Thursday afternoons and 
generally her Sundays, and during the school vacations she 
was supposed to come only when she felt inclined, or when 
the cleaning of her cottage permitted her to come. Hence, 
in holiday seasons, Mr. Baines weighed more heavily on his 
household than at other times, and his nurses relieved each 
other according to the contingencies of the moment rather 
than by a set programme of hours. 

The tragedy in ten thousand acts of which that bedroom 
was the scene, almost entirely escaped Sophia's perception, as 
it did Constance's. Sophia went into the bedroom as though 
it were a mere bedroom, with its majestic mahogany furni- 
ture, its crimson rep curtains (edged with gold), and its white, 
heavily tasselled counterpane. She was aged four when John 
Baines had suddenly been seized with giddiness on the steps 
of his shop, and had fallen, and, without losing consciousness, 



A BATTLE. 59 

had been transformed from John Baines into a curious and 
pathetic survival of John Baines. She had no notion of the 
thrill which ran through the town on that night when it was 
known that John Baines had had a stroke, and that his left 
arm and left leg and his right eyelid were paralyzed, and 
that the active member of the Local Board, the orator, th 
religious worker, the very life of the town's life, was perma- 
nently done for. She had never heard of the crisis through 
which her mother, assisted by Aunt Harriet, had passed, and 
out of which she had triumphantly emerged. She was not 
yet old enough even to suspect it. She possessed only the 
vaguest memory of her father before he had finished with the 
world. She knew him simply as an organism on a bed, 
whose left side was wasted, whose eyes were often inflamed, 
whose mouth was crooked, who had no creases from the nose 
to the corners of the mouth like other people, who experi- 
enced difficulty in eating because the food would somehow 
get between his gums and his cheek, who slept a great deal 
but was excessively fidgety while awake, who seemed to hear 
what was said to him a long time after it was uttered, as if the 
sense had to travel miles by labyrinthine passages to his 
brain, and who talked very, very slowly in a weak, trembling 
voice. 

And she had an image of that remote brain as something 
with a red spot on it, for once Constance had said : " Mother, 
why did father have a stroke ? " and Mrs. Baines had replied : 
" It was a haemorrhage of the brain, my dear, here " putting 
a thimbled finger on a particular part of Sophia's head. 

Not merely had Constance and Sophia never really felt 
their father's tragedy ; Mrs. Baines herself had largely lost 
the sense of it such is the effect of use. Even the ruined 
organism only remembered fitfully and partially that it had 
once been John Baines. And if Mrs. Baines had not, by the 
habit of years, gradually built up a gigantic fiction that the 
organism remained ever the supreme consultative head of 
the family ; if Mr. Critchlow had not obstinately continued 
to treat it as a crony, the mass of living and dead nerves 
on the rich Victorian bedstead would have been of no more 
account than some Aunt Maria in similar case. These two 
persons, his wife and his friend, just managed to keep him 
morally alive by indefatigably feeding his importance and his 
dignity. The feat was a miracle of stubborn, self-deceiving, 
splendidly blind devotion, and incorrigible pride. 

When Sophia entered the room, the paralytic followed her 
with his nervous gaze until she had sat down on the end of 
the sofa at the foot of the bed. He seemed to study her for 



60 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

a long time, and then he murmured in his slow, enfeebled, 
irregular voice : 

" Is that Sophia ? " 

" Yes, father," she answered cheerfully. 

And after another pause, the old man said : " Ay ! It's 
Sophia." 

And later : " Your mother said she should send ye." 

Sophia saw that this was one of his bad, dull days. He 
had, occasionally, days of comparative nimbleness, when his 
wits seized almost easily the meanings of external phenomena. 

Presently his sallow face and long white beard began to 
slip down the steep slant of the pillows, and a troubled look 
came into his left eye. Sophia rose, and, putting her hands 
under his armpits, lifted him higher on the bed. He was not 
heavy, but only a strong girl of her years could have done it. 

" Ay ! " he muttered. " That's it. That's it." 

And, with his controllable right hand, he took her hand as 
she stood by the bed. She was so young and fresh, such an 
incarnation of the spirit of health, and he was so far gone in 
decay and corruption, that there seemed in this contact of 
body with body something unnatural and repulsive. But 
Sophia did not so feel it. 

" Sophia," he addressed her, and made preparatory noises 
in his throat while she waited. 

He continued after an interval, now clutching her arm, 
" Your mother's been telling me you don't want to go in the 
shop." 

She turned her eyes on him, and his anxious, dim gaze met 
hers. She nodded. 

" Nay, Sophia," he mumbled, with the extreme of slowness. 
" I'm surprised at ye ... Trade's bad, bad ! Ye know 
trade's bad ? " He was still clutching her arm. 

She nodded. She was, in fact, aware of the badness of 
trade, caused by a vague war in the United States. The 
words " North " and " South " had a habit of recurring in the 
conversation of adult persons. That was all she knew, 
though people were starving in the Five Towns as they were 
starving in Manchester. 

" There's your mother," his thought struggled on, like an 
aged horse over a hilly road. " There's your mother ! " he 
repeated, as if wishful to direct Sophia's attention to the spec- 
tacle of her mother. " Working hard ! Con Constance 
and you must help her. . . . Trade's bad ! What can I 
do ... lying here ? " 

The heat from his dry fingers was warming her arm. She 
wanted to move, but she could not have withdrawn her arm 



A BATTLE. 61 

without appearing impatient. For a similar reason she 
would not avert her glance. A deepening flush increased the 
lustre of her immature loveliness as she bent over him. But 
though it was so close he did not feel that radiance. He had 
long outlived a susceptibility to the strange influences of 
youth and beauty. 

' ' Teaching ! " he muttered . ' ' Nay, nay ! I canna ' allow that . ' ' 

Then his white beard rose at the tip as he looked p at the 
ceiling above his head, reflectively. 

" You understand me ? " he questioned finally. 

She nodded again ; he loosed her arm, and she turned away. 
She could not have spoken. Glittering tears enriched her 
eyes. She was saddened into a profound and sudden grief 
by the ridiculousness of the scene. She had youth, physical 
perfection ; she brimmed with energy, with the sense of vital 
power ; all existence lay before her ; when she put her lips 
together she felt capable of outvying no matter whom in 
fortitude of resolution. She had always hated the shop. 
She did not understand how her mother and Constance could 
bring themselves to be deferential and flattering to every cus- 
tomer that entered. No, she did not understand it ; but 
her mother (though a proud woman) and Constance seemed to 
practise such behaviour so naturally, so unquestionably, that 
she had never imparted to either of them her feelings ; she 
guessed that she would not be comprehended. But long ago 
she had decided that she would never " go into the shop." 
She knew that she would be expected to do something, and 
she had fixed on teaching as the one possibility. These de- 
cisions had formed part of her inner life for years past. She 
had not mentioned them, being secretive and scarcely anxious 
for unpleasantness. But she had been slowly preparing her- 
self to mention them. The extraordinary announcement 
that she was to leave school at the same time as Constance 
had taken her unawares, before the preparations ripening in 
her mind were complete before, as it were, she had girded 
up her loins for the fray. She had been caught unready, and 
the opposing forces had obtained the advantage of her. 
But did they suppose she was beaten ? 

No argument from her mother ! No hearing, even ! Just 
a curt and haughty " Let me hear no more of this " ! And so 
the great desire of her life, nourished year after year in her 
inmost bosom, was to be flouted and sacrificed with a word ! 
Her mother did not appear ridiculous in the affair, for her 
mother was a genuine power, commanding by turns genuine 
love and genuine hate, and always, till then, obedience and 
the respect of reason. It was her father who appeared tragi- 



62 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

cally ridiculous ; and, in turn, the whole movement against 
her grew grotesque in its absurdity. Here was this antique 
wreck, helpless, useless, powerless merely pathetic actu- 
ally thinking that he had only to mumble in order to make 
her "understand"! He knew nothing ; he perceived noth- 
ing ; he was a ferocious egoist, like most bedridden invalids, 
out of touch with life, and he thought himself justified in 
making destinies, and capable of making them ! Sophia 
could not, perhaps, define the feelings which overwhelmed 
her ; but she was conscious of their tendency. They aged 
her, by years. They aged her so that, in a kind of momen- 
tary ecstasy of insight, she felt older than her father himself. 

" You will be a good girl," he said. " I'm sure o' that." 

It was too painful. The grotesqueness of her father's com- 
placency humiliated her past bearing. She was humiliated, 
not for herself, but for him. Singular creature ! She ran out 
of the room. 

Fortunately Constance was passing in the corridor, other- 
wise Sophia had been found guilty of a great breach of duty. 

"Go to father," she whispered hysterically to Constance, 
and fled upwards to the second floor. 



IV. 

At supper, with her red, downcast eyes, she had returned 
to sheer ( girlishness again, overawed by her mother. The 
meal had an unusual aspect. Mr. Povey, safe from the den- 
tist's, but having lost two teeth in two days, was being fed 
on "slops" bread and milk, to wit; he sat near the fire. 
The others had cold pork, half a cold apple-pie, and cheese ; 
but Sophia only pretended to eat ; each time she tried to 
swallow, the tears came into her eyes, and her throat shut 
itself up. Mrs. Baines and Constance had a too careful air 
of eating just as usual. Mrs. Baines's handsome ringlets 
dominated the table under the gas. 

" I'm not so set up with my pastry to-day," observed Mrs. 
Baines, critically munching a fragment of pie-crust. 

She rang a little hand-bell. Maggie appeared from the 
cave. She wore a plain white bib-less apron, but no cap. 

" Maggie, will you have some pie ? " 

" Yes, if you can spare it, ma'am." 

This was Maggie's customary answer to offers of food. 

" We can always spare it, Maggie," said her mistress, as 
usual. " Sophia, if you aren't going to use that plate, give 
it to me." 



A BATTLE. 63 

Maggie disappeared with liberal pie. 

Mrs. Baines then talked to Mr. Povey about his condition, 
and in particular as to the need for precautions against taking 
cold in the bereaved gum. She was a brave and determined 
woman ; from start to finish she behaved as though nothing 
whatever in the household except her pastry and Mr. Povey 
had deviated that day from the normal. She kissed Con- 
stance and Sophia with the most exact equality, and called 
them " my chucks " when they went up to bed. 

Constance, excellent kind heart, tried to imitate her 
mother's tactics as the girls undressed in their room. She 
thought she could not do better than ignore Sophia's deplor- 
able state. 

" Mother's new dress is quite finished, and she's going to 
wear it on Sunday," said she, blandly. 

" If you say another word I'll scratch your eyes out ! " 
Sophia turned on her viciously, with a catch in her voice, 
and then began to sob at intervals. She did not mean this 
threat, but its utterance gave her relief. Constance, faced 
with the fact that her mother's shoes were too big for her, 
decided to preserve her eyesight. 

Long after the gas was out, rare sobs from Sophia shook 
the bed, and they both lay awake in silence. 

" I suppose you and mother have been talking me over 
finely to-day ? " Sophia burst forth, to Constance's surprise, 
in a wet voice. 

"No," said Constance soothingly. "Mother only told 
me." 

" Told you what ? " 

" That you wanted to be a teacher." 

" And I will be, too ! " said Sophia, bitterly. 

" You don't know mother," thought Constance ; but she 
made no audible comment. 

There was another detached, hard sob. And then, such is 
the astonishing talent of youth, they both fell asleep. 

The next morning, early, Sophia stood gazing out of the 
window at the Square. It was Saturday, and all over the 
Square little stalls, with yellow linen roofs, were being erected 
for the principal market of the week. In those barbaric days 
Bursley had a majestic edifice, black as basalt, for the sale of 
dead animals by the limb and rib it was entitled " the 
Shambles " but vegetables, fruit, cheese, eggs, and pikelets 
were still sold under canvas. Eggs are now offered at five 
farthings apiece in a palace that cost twenty-five thousand 
pounds. Yet you will find people in Bursley ready to assert 
that things generally are not what they were, and that in 



64 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

particular the romance of life has gone. But until it has gone 
it is never romance. To Sophia, though she was in a mood 
which usually stimulates the sense of the romantic, there was 
nothing of romance in this picturesque tented field. It was 
just the market. Holl's, the leading grocer's, was already 
open, at the extremity of the Square, and a boy apprentice 
was sweeping the pavement in front of it. The public-houses 
were open, several of them specializing in hot rum at 5.30 a.m. 
The town-crier, in his blue coat with red facings, crossed the 
Square, carrying his big bell by the tongue. There was the 
same shocking hole in one of Mrs. Povey's (confectioner's) 
window-curtains a hole which even her recent travail could 
scarcely excuse. Such matters it was that Sophia noticed 
with dull, smarting eyes. 

" Sophia, you'll take your death of cold standing there 
like that ! " 

She jumped. The voice was her mother's. That vigorous 
woman, after a calm night by the side of the paralytic, was 
already up and neatly dressed. She carried a bottle and an 
egg-cup, and a small quantity of jam in a table-spoon. 

" Get into bed again, do ! There's a dear ! You're shiver- 
ing." 

White Sophia obeyed. It was true ; she was shivering. 
Constance awoke. Mrs. Baines went to the dressing-table 
and filled the egg-cup out of the bottle. 

" Who's that for, mother ? " Constance asked sleepily. 

" It's for Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with good cheer. 
" Now, Sophia ! " and she advanced with the egg-cup in one 
hand and the table-spoon in the other. 

" What is it, mother ? " asked Sophia, who well knew what 
it was. 

" Castor-oil, my dear," said Mrs. Baines, winningly. 

The ludicrousness of attempting to cure obstinacy and 
yearnings for a freer life by means of castor-oil is perhaps less 
real than apparent. The strange interdependence of spirit 
and body, though only understood intelligently in these intel- 
ligent days, was guessed at by sensible mediaeval mothers. 
And certainly, at the period when Mrs. Baines represented 
modernity, castor-oil was still the remedy of remedies. It 
had supplanted cupping. And, if part of its vogue was due 
to its extreme unpleasantness, it had at least proved its quali- 
ties in many a contest with disease. Less than two years 
previously old Dr. Harrop (father of him who told Mrs. Baines 
about Mrs. Povey), being then aged eighty-six, had fallen from 
top to bottom of his staircase. He had scrambled up, taken 
a dose of castor-oil at once, and on the morrow was as well as 



A BATTLE. 65 

if he had never seen a staircase. This episode was town 
property and had sunk deep into all hearts. 

" I don't want any, mother," said Sophia, in dejection. 
"I'm quite well." 

" You simply ate nothing all day yesterday," said Mrs. 
Baines. And she added, " Come ! " As if to say, " There's 
always this silly fuss with castor-oil. Don't keep me waiting." 

" I don't want any," said Sophia, irritated and captious. 

The two girls lay side by side, on their backs. They seemed 
very thin and fragile in comparison with the solidity of their 
mother. Constance wisely held her peace. 

Mrs. Baines put her lips together, meaning : " This is 
becoming tedious. I shall have to be angry in another 
moment ! " 

" Come ! " said she again. 

The girls could hear her foot tapping on the floor. 

" I really don't want it, mamma," Sophia fought. " I 
suppose I ought to know whether I need it or not ! " This 
was insolence. 

" Sophia, will you take this medicine, or won't you ? " 

In conflicts with her children, the mother's ultimatum 
always took the formula in which this phrase was cast. The 
girls knew, when things had arrived at the pitch of " or won't 
you," spoken in Mrs. Baines's firmest tone, that the end was 
upon them. Never had the ultimatum failed. 

There was a silence. 

" And I'll thank you to mind your manners," Mrs. Baines 
added. 

" I won't take it," said Sophia, sullenly and flatly ; and 
she hid her face in the pillow. 

It was a historic moment in the family life. Mrs. Baines 
thought the last day had come. But still she held herself in 
dignity while the apocalypse roared in her ears. 

" Of course I can't force you to take it," she said with superb 
evenness, masking anger by compassionate grief. " You're 
a big girl and a naughty girl. And if you will be ill you must." 

Upon this immense admission, Mrs. Baines departed. 

Constance trembled. 

Nor was that all. In the middle of the morning, when 
Mrs. Baines was pricing new potatoes at a stall at the top end 
of the Square, and Constance choosing threepennyworth of 
flowers at the same stall, whom should they both see, walking 
all alone across the empty corner by the Bank, but Sophia 
Baines ! The Square was busy and populous, and Sophia 
was only visible behind a foreground of restless, chattering 
figures. But she was unmistakably seen. She had been 

3 



66 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

beyond the Square and was returning. Constance could 
scarcely believe her eyes. Mrs. Baines's heart jumped. For 
let it be said that the girls never under any circumstances 
went forth without permission, and scarcely ever alone. That 
Sophia should be at large in the town, without leave, without 
notice, exactly as if she were her own mistress, was a proposi- 
tion which a day earlier had been inconceivable. Yet there 
she was, and moving with a leisureliness that must be de- 
scribed as effrontery ! 

Red with apprehension, Constance wondered what would 
happen. Mrs. Baines said nought of her feelings, did not 
even indicate that she had seen the scandalous, the breath- 
taking sight. And they descended the Square laden with the 
lighter portions of what they had bought during an hour of 
buying. They went into the house by the King Street door ; 
and the first thing they heard was the sound of the piano 
upstairs. Nothing happened. Mr. Povey had his dinner 
alone ; then the table was laid for them, and the bell rung, 
and Sophia came insolently downstairs to join her mother and 
sister. And nothing happened. The dinner was silently 
eaten, and Constance having rendered thanks to God, Sophia 
rose abruptly to go. 

" Sophia ! " 

" Yes, mother." 

" Constance, stay where you are," said Mrs. Baines sud- 
denly to Constance, who had meant to flee. Constance was 
therefore destined to be present at the happening, doubtless 
in order to emphasize its importance and seriousness. 

" Sophia," Mrs. Baines resumed to her younger daughter 
in an ominous voice. " No, please shut the door. There is 
no reason why everybody in the house should hear. Come 
right into the room right in ! That's it. Now, what were 
you doing out in the town this morning ? " 

Sophia was fidgeting nervously with the edge of her 'little 
black apron, and worrying a seam of the carpet with her toes. 
She bent her head towards her left shoulder, at first smiling 
vaguely. She said nothing, but every limb, every glance, 
every curve was speaking. Mrs. Baines sat firmly in her own 
rocking-chair, full of the sensation that she had Sophia, as it 
were, writhing on the end of a skewer. Constance was braced 
into a moveless anguish. 

" I will have an answer," pursued Mrs. Baines. " What 
were you doing out in the town this morning ? " 

" I just went out," answered Sophia at length, still with 
eyes downcast, and in a rather simpering tone. 

" Why did you go out ? You said nothing to me about 



A BATTLE. 67 

going out. I heard Constance ask you if you were coming 
with us to the market, and you said, very rudely, that you 
weren't." 

" I didn't say it rudely," Sophia objected. 

" Yes you did. And I'll thank you not to answer back." 

" I didn't mean to say it rudely, did I, Constance ? " 
Sophia's head turned sharply to her sister. Constance knew 
not where to look. 

" Don't answer back," Mrs. Baines repeated sternly. 
" And don't try to drag Constance into this, for I won't 
have it." 

" Oh, of course Constance is always right 1 " observed 
Sophia, with an irony whose unparalleled impudence shook 
Mrs. Baines to her massive foundations. 

" Do you want me to have to smack you, child ? " 

Her temper flashed out and you could see ringlets vibrating 
under the provocation of Sophia's sauciness. Then Sophia's 
lower lip began to fall and to bulge outwards, and all the 
muscles of her face seemed to slacken. 

" You are a very naughty girl," said Mrs. Baines, with re- 
straint. (" I've got her," said Mrs. Baines to herself. " I 
may just as well keep my temper.") 

And a sob broke out of Sophia. She was behaving like a 
little child. She bore no trace of the young maiden sedately 
crossing the Square without leave and without an escort. 

("I knew she was going to cry," said Mrs. Baines, breath- 
ing relief.) 

" I'm waiting," said Mrs. Baines aloud. 

A second sob. Mrs. Baines manufactured patience to meet 
the demand. 

" You tell me not to answer back, and then you say you're 
waiting," Sophia blubbered thickly. 

" What's that you say ? How can I tell what you say if 
you talk like that ? " (But Mrs. Baines failed to hear out of 
discretion, which is better than valour.) 

" It's of no consequence," Sophia blurted forth in a sob. 
She was weeping now, and tears were ricocheting off her 
lovely crimson cheeks on to the carpet ; her whole body was 
trembling. 

" Don't be a great baby," Mrs. Baines enjoined, with a 
touch of rough persuasiveness in her voice. 

" It's you who make me cry," said Sophia, bitterly. "You 
make me cry and then you call me a great baby ! " And 
sobs ran through her frame like waves one after another. 
She spoke so indistinctly that her mother now really had 
some difficulty in catching her words. 



68 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with god-like calm, " it is not 
I who make you cry. It is your guilty conscience makes you 
cry. I have merely asked you a question, and I intend to 
have an answer." 

"I've told you." Here Sophia checked the sobs with an 
immense effort. 

" What have you told me ? " 

" I just went out." 

" I will have no trifling," said Mrs. Baines. " What did 
you go out for, and without telling me ? If 'you had told me 
afterwards, when I came in, of your own accord, it might have 
been different. But no, not a word ! It is I who have to ask ! 
Now, quick ! I can't wait any longer." 

(" I gave way over the castor-oil, my girl," Mrs. Baines 
said in her own breast. " But not again ! Not again ! ") 

" I don't know," Sophia murmured. 

" What do you mean you don't know ? " 

The sobbing recommenced tempestuously. " I mean I 
don't know. I just went out." Her voice rose ; it was 
noisy, but scarcely articulate. " What if I did go out ? " 

" Sophia, I am not going to be talked to like this. If you 
think because you're leaving school you can do exactly as you 
like " 

" Do I want to leave school ? " yelled Sophia, stamping. 
In a moment a hurricane of emotion overwhelmed her, as 
though that stamping of the foot had released the demons of 
the storm. Her face was transfigured by uncontrollable 
passion. " You all want to make me miserable ! " she 
shrieked with terrible violence. " And now I can't even go 
out ! You are a horrid, cruel woman, and I hate you ! 
And you can do what you like ! Put me in prison if you like ! 
I know you'd be glad if I was dead ! " 

She dashed from the room, banging the door with a shock 
that made the house rattle. And she had shouted so loud 
that she might have been heard in the shop, and even in the 
kitchen. It was a startling experience for Mrs. Baines. Mrs. 
Baines, why did you saddle yourself with a witness ? Why 
did you so positively say that you had intended to have an 
answer ? 

" Really," she stammered, pulling her dignity about her 
shoulders like a garment that the wind had snatched off, 
" I never dreamed that poor girl had such a dreadful temper ! 
What a pity it is, for her own sake ! " It was the best she 
could do. 

Constance, who could not bear to witness her mother's 
humiliation, vanished very quietly from the room. She got 



A BATTLE. 69 

halfway upstairs to the second floor, and then, hearing the 
loud, rapid, painful, regular intake of sobbing breaths, she 
hesitated and crept down again. 

This was Mrs. Baines's first costly experience of the child 
thankless for having been brought into the world. It robbed 
her of her profound, absolute belief in herself. She had 
thought she knew everything in her house and could do every- 
thing there. And lo ! she had suddenly stumbled against 
an unsuspected personality at large in her house, a sort of 
hard marble affair that informed her by means of bumps 
that if she did not want to be hurt she must keep out of the 
way. 



V. 

On the Sunday afternoon Mrs. Baines was trying to repose 
a little in the drawing-room, where she had caused a fire to be 
lighted. Constance was in the adjacent bedroom with her 
father. Sophia lay between blankets in the room overhead 
with a feverish cold. This cold and her new dress were Mrs. 
Baines's sole consolation at the moment. She had prophe- 
sied a cold for Sophia, refuser of castor-oil, and it had come. 
Sophia had received, for standing in her nightdress at a 
draughty window of a May morning, what Mrs. Baines 
called " nature's slap in the face." As for the dress, she had 
worshipped God in it, and prayed for Sophia in it, before 
dinner ; and its four double rows of gimp on the skirt had 
been accounted a great success. With her lace-bordered 
mantle and her low, stringed bonnet she had assuredly 
given a unique lustre to the congregation at chapel. She 
was stout ; but the fashions, prescribing vague outlines, 
broad downward slopes, and vast amplitudes, were favour- 
able to her shape. It must not be supposed that stout 
women of a certain age never seek to seduce the eye and 
trouble the meditations of man by other than moral 
charms. Mrs. Baines knew that she was comely, natty, 
imposing, and elegant ; and the knowledge gave her real 
pleasure. She would look over her shoulder in the glass 
as anxious as a girl : make no mistake. 

She did not repose ; she could not. She sat thinking, in 
exactly the same posture as Sophia's two afternoons pre- 
viously. She would have been surprised to hear that her 
attitude, bearing, and expression powerfully recalled those of 
her reprehensible daughter. But it was so. A good angel 
made her restless, and she went idly to the window and glanced 



70 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

upon the empty, shuttered Square. She too, majestic 
matron, had strange, brief yearnings for an existence more 
romantic than this ; shootings across her spirit's firmament of 
tailed comets ; soft, inexplicable melancholies. The good 
angel, withdrawing her from such a mood, directed her gaze 
to a particular spot at the top of the Square. 

She passed at once out of the room not precisely in a 
hurry, yet without wasting time. In a recess under the stairs, 
immediately outside the door, was a box about a foot square 
and eighteen inches deep covered with black American cloth. 
She bent down and unlocked this box, which was padded 
within and contained the Baines silver tea-service. She drew 
from the box teapot, sugar-bowl, milk-jug, sugar-tongs, hot- 
water jug, and cake-stand (a flattish dish with an arching 
semicircular handle) chased vessels, silver without and 
silver-gilt within ; glittering heirlooms that shone in the 
dark corner like the secret pride of respectable families. 
These she put on a tray that always stood on end in the 
recess. Then she looked upwards through the banisters to 
the second floor. 

Maggie ! " she piercingly whispered. 
Yes, mum," came a voice. 
Are you dressed ? " 
Yes, mum. I'm just coming." 

Well, put on your muslin." " Apron," Mrs. Baines im- 
plied. 

Maggie understood. 

" Take these for tea," said Mrs. Baines when Maggie de- 
scended. " Better rub them over. You know where the 
cake is that new one. The best cups. And the silver 
spoons." 

They both heard a knock at the side door, far off, be- 
low. 

" There ! " exclaimed Mrs. Baines. " Now take these right 
down into the kitchen before you open." 

" Yes, mum," said Maggie, departing. 

Mrs. Baines was wearing a black alpaca apron. She re- 
moved it and put on another one of black satin embroidered 
with yellow flowers, which, by merely inserting her arm into 
the chamber, she had taken from off the chest of drawers 
in her bedroom. Then she fixed herself in the drawing- 
room. 

Maggie returned, rather short of breath, convoying the 
visitor. 

" Ah ! Miss Chetwynd," said Mrs. Baines, rising to wel- 
come. "-I'm sure I'm delighted to see you. I saw you 



A BATTLE. 71 

coming down the Square, and I said to myself, ' Now, I do 
hope Miss Chetwynd isn't going to forget us.' ' 

Miss Chetwynd, simpering momentarily, came forward 
with that self-conscious, slightly histrionic air, which is one 
of the penalties of pedagogy. She lived under the eyes of 
her pupils. Her life was one ceaseless effort to avoid doing 
anything which might influence her charges for evil or shock 
the natural sensitiveness of their parents. She had to wind 
her earthly way through a forest of the most delicate sus- 
ceptibilities fern-fronds that stretched across the path, and 
that she must not even accidentally disturb with her skirt 
as she passed. No wonder she walked mincingly ! No won- 
der she had a habit of keeping her elbows close to her sides, 
and drawing her mantle tight in the streets ! Her pros- 
pectus talked about " a sound and religious course of train- 
ing," " study embracing the usual branches of English, with 
music by a talented master, drawing, dancing, and calis- 
thenics." Also " needlework plain and ornamental ; " also 
" moral influence ; " and finally about terms, " which are 
very moderate, and every particular, with references to 
parents and others, furnished on application." (Sometimes, 
too, without application.) As an illustration of the delicacy 
of fern -fronds, that single word " dancing " had nearly lost 
her Constance and Sophia seven years before ! 

She was a pinched virgin, aged forty, and not " well off ; " 
in her family the gift of success had been monopolized by her 
elder sister. For these characteristics Mrs. Baines, as a matron 
in easy circumstances, pitied Miss Chetwynd. On the other 
hand, Miss Chetwynd could choose ground from which to look 
down upon Mrs. Baines, who after all was in trade. Miss 
Chetwynd had no trace of the local accent ; she spoke with a 
southern refinement which the Five Towns, while making fun 
of it, envied. All her O's had a genteel leaning towards 
" ow," as ritualism leans towards Romanism. And she was 
the fount of etiquette, a wonder of correctness ; in the eyes 
of her pupils' parents not so much " a perfect lady " as "a 
perfect lady." So that it was an extremely nice question 
whether, upon the whole, Mrs. Baines secretly condescended 
to Miss Chetwynd or Miss Chetwynd to Mrs. Baines. Per- 
haps Mrs. Baines, by virtue of her wifehood, carried the day. 

Miss Chetwynd, carefully and precisely seated, opened the 
conversation by explaining that even if Mrs. Baines had not 
written she would have called in any case, as she made a prac- 
tice of calling at the home of her pupils in vacation time : 
which was true. Mrs. Baines, it should be stated, had on 
Friday afternoon sent to Miss Chetwynd one of her most 



72 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

luxurious notes lavender-coloured paper with scalloped 
edges, the selectest mode of the day to announce, in her 
Italian hand, that Constance and Sophia would both leave 
school at the end of the next term, and giving reasons in re- 
gard to Sophia. 

Before the visitor had got very far, Maggie came in with a 
lacquered tea-caddy and the silver teapot and a silver spoon 
on a lacquered tray. Mrs. Baines, while continuing to talk, 
chose a key from her bunch, unlocked the tea-caddy, and 
transferred four teaspoonfuls of tea from it to the teapot 
and relocked the caddy. 

" Strawberry," she mysteriously whispered to Maggie ; and 
Maggie disappeared, bearing the tray and its contents. 

" And how is your sister ? It is quite a long time since she 
was down here," Mrs. Baines went on to Miss Chetwynd, after 
whispering " strawberry." 

The remark was merely in the way of small-talk for the 
hostess felt a certain unwilling hesitation to approach the 
topic of daughters but it happened to suit the social pur- 
pose of Miss Chetwynd to a nicety. Miss Chetwynd was a 
vessel brimming with great tidings. 

" She is very well, thank you," said Miss Chetwynd, and 
her expression grew exceedingly vivacious. Her face glowed 
with pride as she added, " Of course everything is changed 
now." 

" Indeed ? " murmured Mrs. Baines, with polite curi- 
osity. 

" Yes," said Miss Chetwynd. " You've not heard ? " 

" No," said Mrs. Baines. Miss Chetwynd knew that she 
had not heard. 

" About Elizabeth's engagement I To the Reverend Archi- 
bald Jones ? " 

It is the fact that Mrs. Baines was taken aback. She did 
nothing indiscreet ; she did not give vent to her excusable 
amazement that the elder Miss Chetwynd should be engaged 
to any one at all, as some women would have done in the 
stress of the moment. She kept her presence of mind. 

" This is really most interesting ! " said she. 

It was. For Archibald Jones was one of the idols of the 
Wesleyan Methodist Connexion, a special preacher famous 
throughout England. At " Anniversaries " and " Trust ser- 
mons," Archibald Jones had probably no rival. His Christian 
name helped him ; it was a luscious, resounding mouthful for 
admirers. He was not an itinerant minister, migrating every 
three years. His function was to direct the affairs of the 
" Book Room," the publishing department of the Connexion. 



A BATTLE. 73 

He lived in London, and shot out into the provinces at week- 
ends, preaching on Sundays and giving a lecture, tinctured 
with bookishness, " in the chapel " on Monday evenings. 
In every town he visited there was competition for the privi- 
lege of entertaining him. He had zeal, indefatigable energy, 
and a breezy wit. He was a widower of fifty, and his wife 
had been dead for twenty years. It had seemed as if women 
were not for this bright star. And here Elizabeth Chetwynd, 
who had left the Five Towns a quarter of a century before 
at the age of twenty, had caught him ! Austere, moustached, 
formidable, desiccated, she must have done it with her power- 
ful intellect ! It must be a union of intellects ! He had 
been impressed by hers, and she by his, and then their in- 
tellects had kissed. Within a week fifty thousand women in 
forty counties had pictured to themselves this osculation of 
intellects, and shrugged their shoulders, and decided once 
more that men were incomprehensible. These great ones in 
London, falling in love like the rest ! But no ! Love was a 
ribald and voluptuous word to use in such a matter as this. 
It was generally felt that the Reverend Archibald Jones and 
Miss Chetwynd the elder would lift marriage to what would 
now be termed an astral plane. 

After tea had been served, Mrs. Baines gradually recovered 
her position, both in her own private esteem and in the 
deference of Miss Aline Chetwynd. 

" Yes," said she. " You can talk about your sister, and 
you can call him Archibald, and you can mince up your words. 
But have you got a tea-service like this ? Can you conceive 
more perfect strawberry jam than this ? Did not my dress 
cost more than you spend on your clothes in a year ? Has a 
man ever looked at you ? After all, is there not something 
about my situation ... in short, something . . . ? " 

She did not say this aloud. She in no way deviated from 
the scrupulous politeness of a hostess. There was nothing in 
even her tone to indicate that Mrs. John Baines was a per- 
sonage. Yet it suddenly occurred to Miss Chetwynd that her 
pride in being the prospective sister-in-law of the Rev. Archi- 
bald Jones would be better for a while in her pocket. And 
she inquired after Mr. Baines. After this the conversation 
limped somewhat. 

" I suppose you weren't surprised by my letter ? " said 
Mrs. Baines. 

" I was and I wasn't," answered Miss Chetwynd, in her 
professional manner and not her manner of a prospective 
sister-in-law. " Of course I am naturally sorry to lose two 
such good pupils, but we can't keep our pupils for ever." 



74 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

She smiled ; she was not without fortitude it is easier to 
lose pupils than to replace them. " Still " a pause " what 
you say of Sophia is perfectly true, perfectly. She is quite 
as advanced as Constance. Still " another pause and a 
more rapid enunciation " Sophia is by no means an ordinary 
girl." 

" I hope she hasn't been a very great trouble to you ? " 

" Oh no ! " exclaimed Miss Chetwynd. " Sophia and I 
have got on very well together. I have always tried to appeal 
to her reason. I have never forced her. . . . Now, with some 
girls. ... In some ways I look on Sophia as the most re- 
markable girl not pupil but the most remarkable what 
shall I say ? individuality, that I have ever met with." 
And her demeanour added, " And, mind you, this is something 
from me 1 " 

" Indeed ! " said Mrs. Baines. She told herself, " I am not 
your common foolish parent. I see my children impartially. 
I am incapable of being flattered concerning them." 

Nevertheless she was flattered, and the thought shaped 
itself that really Sophia was no ordinary girl. 

" I suppose she has talked to you about becoming a 
teacher ? " asked Miss Chetwynd, taking a morsel of the 
unparalleled jam. 

She held the spoon with her thumb and three fingers. Her 
fourth finger, in matters of honest labour, would never asso- 
ciate with the other three ; delicately curved, it always drew 
proudly away from them. 

" Has she mentioned that to you ? " Mrs. Baines de- 
manded, startled. 

" Oh yes ! " said Miss Chetwynd. " Several times. Sophia 
is a very secretive girl, very but I think I may say I have 
always had her confidence. There have been times when 
Sophia and I have been very near each other. Elizabeth was 
much struck with her. Indeed, I may tell you that in one of 
her* last letters to me she spoke of Sophia and said she had 
mentioned her to Mr. Jones, and Mr. Jones remembered her 
quite well." 

Impossible for even a wise, uncommon parent not to be 
affected by such an announcement ! 

" I dare say your sister will give up her school now," 
observed Mrs. Baines, to divert attention from her self- 
consciousness. 

" Oh no ! " And this time Mrs. Baines had genuinely 
shocked Miss Chetwynd. " Nothing would induce Elizabeth 
to give up the cause of education. Archibald takes the keen- 
est interest in the school. Oh no ! Not for worlds ! " 



A BATTLE. 75 

' Then you think Sophia would make a good teacher ? " 
asked Mrs. Baines with apparent inconsequence, and with a 
smile. But the words marked an epoch in her mind. All 
was over. 

" I think she is very much" set on it and " 

" That wouldn't affect her father or me," said Mrs. 
Baines quickly. 

" Certainly not ! I merely say that she is very much 
set on it. Yes, she would, at any rate, make a teacher far 
superior to the average." (" That girl has got the better 
of her mother without me ! " she reflected.) " Ah I Here 
is dear Constance ! " 

Constance, tempted beyond her strength by the sounds of 
the visit and the colloquy, had slipped into the room. 

" I've left both doors open, mother," she excused herself 
for quitting her father, and kissed Miss Chetwynd. 

She blushed, but she blushed happily, and really made a 
most creditable debut as a young lady. Her mother rewarded 
her by taking her into the conversation. And history was 
soon made. 

So Sophia was apprenticed to Miss Aline Chetwynd. 
Mrs. Baines bore herself greatly. It was Miss Chetwynd 
who had urged, and her respect for Miss Chetwynd. . . . 
Also somehow the Reverend Archibald Jones came into the 
cause. ... Of course the idea of Sophia ever going to London 
was ridiculous, ridiculous ! (Mrs. Baines secretly feared that 
the ridiculous might happen ; but, with the Reverend Archi- 
bald Jones on the spot, the worst could be faced.) Sophia 
must understand that even the apprenticeship in Bursley 
was merely a trial. They would see how things went on. 
She had to thank Miss Chetwynd. . . . 

" I made Miss Chetwynd come and talk to mother," said 
Sophia magnificently one night to simple Constance, as if to 
imply, " Your Miss Chetwynd is my washpot." 

To Constance, Sophia's mere enterprise was just as stagger- 
ing as her success. Fancy her deliberately going out that 
Saturday morning, after her mother's definite decision, to 
enlist Miss Chetwynd in her aid ! 

There is no need to insist on the tragic grandeur of Mrs. 
Baines's renunciation a renunciation which implied her 
acceptance of a change in the balance of power in her realm. 
Part of its tragedy was that none, not even Constance, could 
divine the intensity of Mrs. Baines's suffering. She had no 
confidant ; she was incapable of showing a wound. But 
when she lay awake at night by the organism which had once 
been her husband, she dwelt long and deeply on the martyr- 



76 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

dom of her life. What had she done to deserve it ? Always 
had she conscientiously endeavoured to be kind, just, patient. 
And she knew herself to be sagacious and prudent. In the 
frightful and unguessed trials, of her existence as a wife, 
surely she might have been granted consolations as a mother I 
Yet no ; it had not been ! And she felt all the bitterness 
of age against youth youth egotistic, harsh, cruel, uncom- 
promising ; youth that is so crude, so ignorant of life, so 
slow to understand ! She had Constance. Yes, but it would 
be twenty years before Constance could appreciate the sacri- 
fice of judgment and of pride which her mother had made, 
in a sudden decision, during that rambling, starched, simper- 
ing interview with Miss Aline Chetwynd. Probably Constance 
thought that she had yielded to Sophia's passionate temper ! 
Impossible to explain to Constance that she had yielded to 
nothing but a perception of Sophia's complete inability to 
hear reason and wisdom. Ah ! Sometimes as she lay in the 
dark, she would, in fancy, snatch her heart from her bosom and 
fling it down before Sophia, bleeding, and cry : " See what I 
carry about with me, on your account ! " Then she would 
take it back and hide it again, and sweeten her bitterness 
with wise admonitions to herself. 

All this because Sophia, aware that if she stayed in the 
house she would be compelled to help in the shop, chose an 
honourable activity which freed her from the danger. Heart, 
how absurd of you to bleed ! 



CHAPTER IV. 

ELEPHANT. 
I. 

" SOPHIA, will you come and see the elephant ? Do come ! " 
Constance entered the drawing-room with this request on her 
eager lips. . 

" No," said Sophia, with a touch of condescension. " I'm 
far too busy for elephants." 

Only two years had passed ; but both girls were grown up 
now ; long sleeves, long skirts, hair that had settled down in 
life ; and a demeanour immensely serious, as though exist- 
ence were terrific in its responsibilities ; yet sometimes child- 
hood surprisingly broke through the crust of gravity, as now 
in Constance, aroused by such things as elephants, and pro- 
claimed with vivacious gestures that it was not dead after all. 
The sisters were sharply differentiated. Constance wore the 
black alpaca apron and the scissors at the end of a long black 
elastic, which indicated her vocation in the shop. She was 
proving a considerable success in the millinery department. 
She had learnt how to talk to people, and was, "in her modest 
way, very self-possessed. She was getting a little stouter. 
Everybody liked her. Sophia had developed into the student. 
Time had accentuated her reserve. Her sole friend was Miss 
Chetwynd, with whom she was, having regard to the disparity 
of their ages, very intimate. At home she spoke little. She 
lacked amiability ; as her mother said, she was " touchy." 
She required diplomacy from others, but did not render it 
again. Her attitude, indeed, was one of half-hidden dis- 
dain, now gentle, now coldly bitter. She would not wear an 
apron, in an age when aprons were almost essential to decency. 
No ! She would not wear an apron, and there was an end of 
it. She was not so tidy as Constance, and if Constance's 
hands had taken on the coarse texture which comes from 



78 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

commerce with needles, pins, artificial flowers, and stuffs, 
Sophia's fine hands were seldom innocent of ink. But Sophia 
was splendidly beautiful. And even her mother and Con- 
stance had an instinctive idea that that face was, at any rate, 
a partial excuse for her asperity. 

" Well," said Constance, " if you won't, I do believe I shall 
ask mother if she will." 

Sophia, bending over her books, made no answer. But 
the top of her head said : " This has no interest for me what- 
ever." 

Constance left the room, and in a moment returned with 
her mother. 

" Sophia," said her mother, with gay excitement, " you 
might go and sit with your father for a bit while Constance 
and I just run up to the playground to see the elephant. 
You can work just as well in there as here. Your father's 
asleep." 

" Oh, very well ! " Sophia agreed haughtily. " Whatever 
is all this fuss about an elephant ? Anyhow, it'll be quieter 
in your room. The noise here is splitting." She gave a 
supercilious glance into the Square as she languidly rose. 

It was the morning of the third day of Bursley Wakes ; 
not the modern finicking and respectable, but an orgiastic 
carnival, gross in all its manifestations of joy. The whole 
centre of the town was given over to the furious pleasures of 
the people. Most of the Square was occupied by Wombwell's 
Menagerie, in a vast oblong tent, whose raging beasts roared 
and growled day and night. And spreading away from this 
supreme attraction, right up through the market-place past 
the Town Hall to Duck Bank, Duck Square and the waste 
land called the " playground," were hundreds of booths with 
banners displaying all the delights of the horrible. You could 
see the atrocities of the French Revolution, and of the Fiji 
Islands, and the ravages of unspeakable diseases, and the 
living flesh of a nearly nude human female guaranteed to turn 
the scale at twenty-two stone, and the skeletons of the 
mysterious phantoscope, and the bloody contests of cham- 
pions naked to the waist (with the chance of picking up a 
red tooth as a relic) . You could try your strength by hitting 
an image of a fellow-creature in the stomach, and test your 
aim by knocking off the heads of other images with a wooden 
ball. You could also shoot with rifles at various targets. 
All the streets were lined with stalls loaded with food in heaps, 
chiefly dried fish, the entrails of animals, and gingerbread. 
All the public-houses were crammed, and frenzied jolly 
drunkards, men and women, lounged along the pavements 



ELEPHANT. 79 

everywhere, their shouts vying with the trumpets, horns, 
and drums of the booths, and the shrieking, rattling toys 
that the children carried. 

It was a glorious spectacle, but not a spectacle for the 
leading families. Miss Chetwynd's school was closed, so that 
the daughters of leading families might remain in seclusion 
till the worst was over. The Baineses ignored the Wakes 
in every possible way, choosing that week to have a show 
of mourning goods in the left-hand window, and refusing 
to let Maggie outside on any pretext. Therefore the dazzling 
social success of the elephant, which was quite easily drawing 
Mrs. Baines into the vortex, cannot imaginably be over- 
estimated. 

On the previous night one of the three Wombwell elephants 
had suddenly knelt on a man in the tent ; he had then 
walked out of the tent and picked up another man at hap- 
hazard from the crowd which was staring at the great 
pictures in front, and tried to put this second man into his 
mouth. Being stopped by his Indian attendant with a 
pitchfork, he placed the man on the ground and stuck his 
tusk through an artery of the victim's arm. He then, amid 
unexampled excitement, suffered himself to be led away. 
He was conducted to the rear of the tent, just in front of 
Baines's shuttered windows, and by means of stakes, pulleys, 
and ropes forced to his knees. His head was whitewashed, 
and six men of the Rifle Corps were engaged to shoot at him 
at a distance of five yards, while constables kept the crowd 
off with truncheons. He died instantly, rolling over with a 
soft thud. The crowd cheered, and, intoxicated by their 
importance, the Volunteers fired three more volleys into the 
carcase, and were then borne off as heroes to different inns. 
The elephant, by the help of his two companions, was got on 
to a railway lorry and disappeared into the night. Such 
was the greatest sensation that has ever occurred, or perhaps 
will ever occur, in Bursley. The excitement about the 
repeal of the Corn Laws, or about Inkerman, was feeble 
compared to that excitement. Mr. Critchlow, who had 
been called on to put a hasty tourniquet round the arm of the 
second victim, had popped in afterwards to tell John Baines 
all about it. Mr. Baines's interest, however, had been 
slight. Mr. Critchlow succeeded better with the ladies, 
who, though they had witnessed the shooting from the 
drawing-room, were thirsty for the most trifling details. 

The next day it was known that the elephant lay near 
the playground', pending the decision of the Chief Bailiff 
and the Medical Officer as to his burial. And everybody 



8o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

had to visit the corpse. No social exclusiveness could 
withstand the seduction of that dead elephant. Pilgrims 
travelled from all the Five Towns to see him. 

" We're going now," said Mrs. Baines, after she had 
assumed her bonnet and shawl. 

" All right," said Sophia, pretending to be absorbed in 
study, as she sat on the sofa at the foot of her father's bed. 

And Constance, having put her head in at the door, drew 
her mother after her like a magnet. 

Then Sophia heard a remarkable conversation in the 
passage. 

" Are you going up to see the elephant, Mrs. Baines ? " 
asked the voice of Mr. Povey. 

" Yes. Why ? " 

" I think I had better come with you. The crowd is sure 
to be very rough." Mr. Povey 's tone was firm; he had a 
position. 

" But the shop ? " 

" We shall not be long," said Mr. Povey. 

" Oh yes, mother," Constance added appealingly. 

Sophia felt the house thrill as the side-door banged. She 
sprang up and watched the three cross King Street diag- 
onally, and so plunge into the Wakes. This triple departure 
was surely the crowning tribute to the dead elephant ! It 
vras simply astonishing. It caused Sophia to perceive that 
she had miscalculated the importance of the elephant. It 
made her regret her scorn of the elephant as an attraction. 
She was left behind ; and the joy of life was calling her. 
She could see down into the Vaults on the opposite side of 
the street, where working men potters and colliers in their 
best clothes, some with high hats, were drinking, gesticulating, 
and laughing in a row at a long counter. 

She noticed, while she was thus at the bedroom window, 
a young man ascending King Street, followed by a porter 
trundling a flat barrow of luggage. He passed slowly under 
the very window. She flushed. She had evidently been 
startled by the sight of this young man into no ordinary 
state of commotion. She glanced at the books on the 
sofa, and then at her father. Mr. Baines, thin and gaunt, 
and acutely pitiable, still slept. His brain had almost ceased 
to be active now ; he had to be fed and tended like a bearded 
baby, and he would sleep for hours at a stretch even in the 
daytime. Sophia left the room. A moment later she ran 
into the shop, an apparition that amazed the three young 
lady assistants. At the corner near the window on the 
fancy side a little nook had been formed by screening off a 



ELEPHANT. 81 

portion of the counter with large flower-boxes placed end-up. 
This corner had come to be known as " Miss Baines's corner." 
Sophia hastened to it, squeezing past a young lady assistant 
in the narrow space between the back of the counter and 
the shelf-lined wall. She sat down in Constance's chair and 
pretended to look for something. She had examined herself 
in the cheval-glass in the showroom, on her way from the 
sick-chamber. When she heard a voice near the door of 
the shop asking first for Mr. Povey and then for Mrs. Baines, 
she rose, and seizing the object nearest to her, which hap- 
pened to be a pair of scissors, she hurried towards the show- 
room stairs as though the scissors had been a grail, passion- 
ately sought and to be jealously hidden away. She wanted 
to stop and turn round, but something prevented her. She 
was at the end of the counter, under the curving stairs, when 
one of the assistants said : 

" I suppose you don't know when Mr. Povey or your 
mother are likely to be back, Miss Sophia ? Here's " 

It was a divine release for Sophia. 

" They're I " she stammered, turning round abruptly. 
Luckily she was still sheltered behind the counter. 

The young man whom she had seen in the street came 
boldly forward. 

" Good morning, Miss Sophia," said he, hat in hand. 
" It is a long time since I had the pleasure of seeing you." 

Never had she blushed as she blushed then. She scarcely 
knew what she was doing as she moved slowly towards 
her sister's corner again, the young man following her on the 
customer's side of the counter. 



II. 

She knew that he was a traveller for the most renowned 
and gigantic of all Manchester wholesale firms Birkinshaws. 
But she did not know his name, which was Gerald Scales. 
He was a rather short, but extremely well-proportioned man 
of thirty, with fair hair, and a distinguished appearance, as 
became a representative of Birkinshaws. His broad, tight 
necktie, with an edge of white collar showing above it, was 
particularly elegant. He had been on the road for Birkin- 
shaws for several years ; but Sophia had only seen him 
once before in her life, when she was a little girl, three years 
ago. The relations between the travellers of the great 
firms and their solid, sure clients in small towns were in 



82 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

those days often cordially intimate. The traveller came 
with the lustre of a historic reputation around him ; there 
was no need to fawn for orders ; and the client's immense 
and immaculate respectability made him the equal of no 
matter what ambassador. It was a case of mutual esteem, 
and of that confidence-generating phenomenon, " an old 
account." The tone in which a commercial traveller of 
middle age would utter the phrase " an old account " re- 
vealed in a flash all that was romantic, prim, and stately 
in mid- Victorian commerce. In the days of Baines, after 
one of the elaborately engraved advice-circulars had arrived 

(" Our Mr. will have the pleasure of waiting upon you 

on day next, the inst.") John might in certain cases 
be expected to say, on the morning of day, " Missis, what 
have ye gotten for supper to-night ? " 

Mr. Gerald Scales had never been asked to supper ; be 
had never even seen John Baines ; but, as the youthful 
successor of an aged traveller who had had the pleasure of 
St. Luke's Square, on behalf of Birkinshaws, since before 
railways, Mrs. Baines had treated him with a faint agreeable 
touch of maternal familiarity ; and, both her daughters being 
once in the shop during his visit, she had on that occasion com- 
manded the gawky girls to shake hands with him. 

Sophia had never forgotten that glimpse. The young 
man without a name had lived in her mind, brightly glow- 
ing, as the very symbol and incarnation of the masculine 
and the elegant. 

The renewed sight of him seemed to have wakened her 
out of a sleep. Assuredly she was not the same Sophia. 
As she sat in her sister's chair in the corner, entrenched 
behind the perpendicular boxes, playing nervously with the 
scissors, her beautiful face was transfigured into the ravish- 
ingly angelic. It would have been impossible for Mr. Gerald 
Scales, or anybody else, to credit, as he gazed at those lovely, 
sensitive, vivacious, responsive features, that Sophia was 
not a character of heavenly sweetness and perfection. She 
did not know what she was doing ; she was nothing but 
the exquisite expression of a deep instinct to attract and 
charm. Her soul itself emanated from her in an atmosphere 
of allurement and acquiescence. Could those laughing lips 
hang in a heavy pout ? Could that delicate and mild voice 
be harsh ? Could those burning eyes be coldly inimical ? 
Never ! The idea was inconceivable ! And Mr. Gerald 
Scales, with his head over the top of the boxes, yielded to 
the spell. Remarkable that Mr. Gerald Scales, with all his 
experience, should have had to come to Bursley to find the 



ELEPHANT. 83 

pearl, the paragon, the ideal ! But so it was. They met 
in an equal abandonment ; the only difference between them 
was that Mr. Scales, by force of habit, kept his head. 

" I see it's your wakes here," said he. 

He was polite to the wakes ; but now, with the least 
inflection in the world, he put the wakes at its proper level 
in the scheme of things as a local unimportance ! She 
adored him for this ; she was athirst for sympathy in the 
task of scorning everything local. 

" I expect you didn't know," she said, implying that there 
was every reason why a man of his mundane interests should 
not know. 

" I should have remembered if I had thought," said he. 
" But I didn't think. What's this about an elephant ? " 

" Oh ! " she exclaimed. " Have you heard of that ? " 

" My porter was full of it." 

" Well," she said, " of course it's a very big thing in 
Bursley." 

As she smiled in gentle pity of poor Bursley, he naturally 
did the same. And he thought now much more advanced 
and broad the younger generation was than the old ! He 
would never have dared to express his real feelings about 
Bursley to Mrs. Baines, or even to Mr. Povey (who was, 
however, of no generation) ; yet here was a young woman 
actually sharing them. 

She told him all the history of the elephant. 

"Must have been very exciting," he' commented, despite 
himself. 

" Do you know," she replied, " it was." 

After all, Bursley was climbing in their opinion. 

" And mother and my sister and Mr. Povey have all gone 
to see it. That's why they're not here." 

That the elephant should have caused both Mr. Povey 
and Mrs. Baines to forget that the representative of Birkin- 
shaws was due to call was indeed a final victory for the 
elephant. 

" But not you ! " he exclaimed. 

" No," she said. " Not me." 

" Why didn't you go too ? " He continued his flattering 
investigations with a generous smile. 

" I simply didn't care to," said she, proudly nonchalant. 

" And I suppose you are in charge here ? " 

" No," she answered. " I just happened to have run 
down here for these scissors. That's all." 

" I often see your sister," said he. ' ' Often ' do I say ? 
that is, generally, when I come ; but never you." 



84 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" I'm never in the shop," she said. " It's just an accident 
to-day." 

" Oh ! So you leave the shop to your sister ? " 

" Yes." She said nothing of her teaching. 

Then there was a silence. Sophia was very thankful to 
be hidden from the curiosity of the shop. The shop could 
see nothing of her, and only the back of the young man ; 
and the conversation had been conducted in low voices. 
She tapped her foot, stared at the worn, polished surface 
of the counter, with the brass yard-measure nailed along its 
edge, and then she uneasily turned her gaze to the left and 
seemed to be examining the backs of the black bonnets 
which were perched on high stands in the great window. 
Then her eyes caught his for an important moment. 

" Yes," she breathed. Somebody had to say something. 
If the shop missed the murmur of their voices the shop 
would wonder what had happened to them. 

Mr. Scales looked at his watch. " I dare say if I come 
in again about two " he began. 

" Oh yes, they're sure to be in then," she burst out before 
he could finish his sentence. 

He left abruptly, queerly, without shaking hands (but 
then it would have been difficult she argued for him to 
have put his arm over the boxes), and without expressing the 
hope of seeing her again. She peeped through the black 
bonnets, and saw the porter put the leather strap over his 
shoulders, raise the rear of the barrow, and trundle off ; 
but she did not see Mr. Scales. She was drunk ; thoughts 
were tumbling about in her brain like cargo loose in a rolling 
ship. Her entire conception of herself was being altered ; 
her attitude towards life was being altered. The thought 
which knocked hardest against its fellows was, " Only in 
these moments have I begun to live ! " 

And as she flitted upstairs to resume watch over her father 
she sought to devise an innocent-looking method by which 
she might see Mr. Scales when he next called. And she 
speculated as to what his name was. 



III. 

When Sophia arrived in the bedroom, she was startled 
because her father's head and beard were not in their accus- 
tomed place on the pillow. She could only make out some- 
thing vaguely unusual sloping off the side of the bed. A 



ELEPHANT. 85 

few seconds passed not to be measured in time and she 
saw that the upper part of his body had slipped down, and 
his head was hanging, inverted, near the floor between the bed 
and the ottoman. His face, neck, and hands were dark and 
congested ; his mouth was open, and the tongue protruded 
between the black, swollen, mucous lips ; his eyes were 
prominent and coldly staring. The fact was that Mr. Baines 
had wakened up, and, being restless, had slid out partially 
from his bed and died of asphyxia. After having been 
unceasingly watched for fourteen years, he had, with an 
invalid's natural perverseness, taken advantage of Sophia's 
brief dereliction to expire. Say what you will, amid Sophia's 
horror, and her terrible grief and shame, she had visitings 
of the idea : he did it on purpose ! 

She ran out of the room, knowing by intuition that he 
was dead, and shrieked out, " Maggie,' at the top of her 
voice ; the house echoed. 

" Yes, miss," said Maggie, quite close, coming out of 
Mr. Povey's chamber with a slop-pail. 

" Fetch Mr. Critchlow at once. Be quick. Just as you 
are. It's father " 

Maggie, perceiving darkly that disaster was in the air, 
and instantly filled with importance and a sort of black 
joy, dropped her pail in the exact middle of the passage, 
and almost fell down the crooked stairs. One of Maggie's 
deepest instincts, always held in check by the stern dominance 
of Mrs. Baines, was to leave pails prominent on the main 
routes of the house ; and now, divining what was at hand, 
it flamed into insurrection. 

No sleepless night had ever been so long to Sophia as 
the three minutes which elapsed before Mr. Critchlow came. 
As she stood on the mat outside the bedroom door she tried 
to draw her mother and Constance and Mr. Povey by mag- 
netic force out of the wakes into the house, and her muscles 
were contracted in this strange effort. She felt that it was 
impossible to continue living if the secret of the bedroom 
remained unknown one instant longer, so intense was her 
torture, and yet that the torture which could not be borne 
must be borne. Not a sound in the house ! Not a sound 
from the shop ! Only the distant murmur of the wakes ! 

" Why did I forget father ? " she asked herself with awe. 
" I only meant to tell him that they were all out, and run 
back. Why did I forget father ? She would never be 
able to persuade anybody that she had literally forgotten 
her father's existence for quite ten minutes ; but it was true, 
though shocking. 



86 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Then there were noises downstairs. 

" Bless us ! Bless us ! " came the unpleasant voice of 
Mr. Critchlow as he bounded up the stairs on his long legs ; 
he strode over the pail. " What's amiss ? " He was wear- 
ing his white apron, and he carried his spectacles in his bony 
hand. 

" It's father he's " Sophia faltered. 

She stood away so that he should enter the room first. 
He glanced at her keenly, and as it were resentfully, and 
went in. She followed, timidly, remaining near the door while 
Mr. Critchlow inspected her handiwork. He put on his 
spectacles with strange deliberation, and then, bending his 
knees outwards, thus lowered his body so that he could 
examine John Baines point-blank. He remained staring 
like this, his hands on his sharp apron-covered knees, for 
a little space ; and then he seized the inert mass and re- 
stored it to the bed, and wiped those clotted lips with his 
apron. 

Sophia heard loud breathing behind her. It was Maggie. 
She heard a huge, snorting sob ; Maggie was showing her 
emotion. 

" Go fetch doctor ! " Mr. Critchlow rasped. " And don't 
stand gaping there ! " 

" Run for the doctor, Maggie," said Sophia. 

" How came ye to let him fall ? " Mr. Critchlow de- 
manded. 

" I was out of the room. I just ran down into the shop " 

" Gallivanting with that young Scales ! " said Mr. Critch- 
low, with devilish ferocity. " Well, you've killed yer father ; 
that's all ! " 

He must have been at his shop door and seen the entry 
of the traveller ! And it was precisely characteristic of 
Mr. Critchlow to jump in the dark at a horrible conclusion, 
and to be right after all. For Sophia Mr. Critchlow had 
always been the personification of malignity and malevo- 
lence, and now these qualities in him made him, to her, almost 
obscene. Her pride brought up tremendous reinforcements, 
and she approached the bed. 

" Is he dead ? " she asked in a quiet tone. (Somewhere 
within a voice was whispering, " So his name is Scales.") 

" Don't I tell you he's dead ? " 

" Pail on the stairs ! " 

This mild exclamation came from the passage. Mrs. 
Baines, misliking the crowds abroad, had returned alone ; 
she had left Constance in charge of Mr. Povey. Coming 
into her house by the shop and showroom, she had first 



ELEPHANT. 87 

noted the phenomenon of the pail proof of her theory of 
Maggie's incurable untidiness. 

" Been to see the elephant, I reckon ! " said Mr. Critchlow, 
in fierce sarcasm, as he recognized Mrs. Baines's voice. 

Sophia leaped towards the door, as though to bar her 
mother's entrance. But Mrs. Baines was already opening 
the door. 

" Well, my pet " she was beginning cheerfully. 

Mr. Critchlow confronted her. And he had no more pity 
for the wife than for the daughter. He was furiously angry 
because his precious property had been irretrievably damaged 
by the momentary carelessness of a silly girl. Yes, John 
Baines was his property, his dearest toy ! He was con- 
vinced that he alone had kept John Baines alive for fourteen 
years, that he alone had fully understood the case and 
sympathized with the sufferer, that none but he had been 
capable of displaying ordinary common sense in the sick-room. 
He had learned to regard John Baines as, in some sort, his 
creation. And now, with their stupidity, their neglect, 
their elephants, between them they had done for John 
Baines. He had always known it would come to that, and 
it had come to that. 

" She let him fall out o' bed, and ye're a widow now, 
missis I " he announced with a virulence hardly conceivable. 
His angular features and dark eyes expressed a murderous 
hate for every woman named Baines. 

" Mother ! " cried Sophia, " I only ran down into the 
shop to to " 

She seized her mother's arm in frenzied agony. 

" My child ! " said Mrs. Baines, rising miraculously to the 
situation with a calm benevolence of tone and gesture that 
remained for ever sublime in the stormy heart of Sophia, 
" do not hold me." With infinite gentleness she loosed 
herself from those clasping hands. " Have you sent for the 
doctor ? " she questioned Mr. Critchlow. 

The fate of her husband presented no mysteries to Mrs. 
Baines. Everybody had been warned a thousand times of 
the danger of leaving the paralytic, whose life depended on 
his position, and whose fidgetiness was thereby a constant 
menace of death to him. For five thousand nights she had 
wakened infallibly every time he stirred, and rearranged him 
by the flicker of a little oil lamp. But Sophia, unhappy 
creature, had merely left him. That was all. 

Mr. Critchlow and the widow gazed, helplessly waiting, 
at the pitiable corpse, of which the salient part was the 
white beard. They knew not that they were gazing at a van- 



88 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ished era. John Baines had belonged to the past, to the age 
when men really did think of their souls, when orators by 
phrases could move crowds to fury or to pity, when no one 
had learnt to hurry, when Demos was only turning in his 
sleep, when the sole beauty of life resided in its inflexible 
and slow dignity, when hell really had no bottom, and a 
gilt-clasped Bible really was the secret of England's greatness. 
Mid -Victorian England lay on that mahogany bed. Ideals 
had passed away with John Baines. It is thus that ideals 
die ; not in the conventional pageantry of honoured death, 
but sorrily, ignobly, while one's head is turned 

And Mr. Povey and Constance, very self-conscious, went 
and saw the dead elephant, and came back ; and at the 
corner of King Street, Constance exclaimed brightly 

" Why ! who's gone out and left the side-door open ? " 

For the doctor had at length arrived, and Maggie, in 
showing him upstairs with pious haste, had forgotten to shut 
the door. 

And they took advantage of the side-door, rather guiltily, 
to avoid the eyes of the shop. They feared that in the 
parlour they would be the centre of a curiosity half ironical 
and half reproving ; for had they not accomplished an 
escapade ? So they walked slowly. 

The real murderer was having his dinner in the commercial 
room up at the Tiger, opposite the Town Hall. 



IV. 

Several shutters were put up in the windows of the shop, 
to indicate a death, and the news instantly became known 
in trading circles throughout the town. Many people 
simultaneously remarked upon the coincidence that Mr. 
Baines should have died while there was a show of mourning 
goods in his establishment. This coincidence was regarded 
as extremely sinister, and it was apparently felt that, for the 
sake of the mind's peace, one ought not to inquire into such 
things too closely. From the moment of putting up the 
prescribed shutters, John Baines and his funeral began to 
acquire importance in Bursley, and their importance grew 
rapidly almost from hour to hour. The wakes continued 
as usual, except that the Chief Constable, upon representations 
being made to him by Mr. Critchlow and other citizens, 
descended upon St. Luke's Square and forbade the activities 
of Wombwell's orchestra. Wombwell and the Chief Con- 



ELEPHANT. 89 

stable differed as to the justice of the decree, but every well- 
minded person praised the Chief Constable, and he himself 
considered that he had enhanced the town's reputation for 
a decent propriety. It was noticed, too, not without a 
shiver of the uncanny, that that night the lions and tigers 
behaved like lambs, whereas on the previous night they 
had roared the whole Square out of its sleep. 

The Chief Constable was not the only individual enlisted 
by Mr. Critchlow in the service of his friend's fame. Mr. 
Critchlow spent hours in recalling the principal citizens to 
a due sense of John Baines's past greatness. He was deter- 
mined that his treasured toy should vanish underground 
with due pomp, and he left nothing undone to that end. 
He went over to Hanbridge on the still wonderful horse-car, 
and saw the editor-proprietor of the Staffordshire Signal 
(then a two-penny weekly with no thought of Football 
editions), and on the very day of the funeral the Signal 
came out with a long and eloquent biography of John Baines. 
This biography, giving details of his public life, definitely 
restored him to his legitimate position in the civic memory 
as an ex-chief bailiff, an ex-chairman of the Burial Board, 
and of the Five Towns Association for the Advancement of 
Useful Knowledge, and also as a " prime mover " in the local 
Turnpike Act, in the negotiations for the new Town Hall, 
and in the Corinthian facade of the Wesleyan Chapel ; it 
narrated the anecdote of his courageous speech from the 
portico of the Shambles during the riots of 1848, and it did 
not omit a eulogy of his steady adherence to the wise old 
English maxims of commerce and his avoidance of dangerous 
modern methods. Even in the sixties the modern had reared 
its shameless head. The panegyric closed with an apprecia- 
tion of the dead man's fortitude in the terrible affliction with 
which a divine providence had seen fit to try him ; and 
finally the Signal uttered its absolute conviction that his 
native town would raise a cenotaph to his honour. Mr. 
Critchlow, being unfamiliar with the word " cenotaph " 
consulted Worcester's Dictionary, and when he found that 
it meant " a sepulchral monument to one who is buried 
elsewhere," he was as pleased with the Signal's language as 
with the idea, and decided that a cenotaph should come 
to pass. 

The house and shop were transformed into a hive of 
preparation for the funeral. All was changed. Mr. Povey 
kindly slept for three nights on the parlour sofa, in order that 
Mrs. Baines might have his room. The funeral grew into an 
obsession, for multitudinous things had to be performed and 



90 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

done sumptuously and in strict accordance with precedent. 
There were the family mourning, the funeral repast, the choice 
of the text on the memorial card, the composition of the 
legend on the coffin, the legal arrangements, the letters to 
relations, the selection of guests, and the questions of bell- 
ringing, hearse, plumes, number of horses, and grave-digging. 
Nobody had leisure for the indulgence of grief except Aunt 
Maria, who, after she had helped in the laying-out, simply sat 
down and bemoaned unceasingly for hours her absence on the 
fatal morning. " If I hadn't been so fixed on polishing my 
candle-sticks," she weepingly repeated, " he mit ha' been 
alive and well now." Not that Aunt Maria had been in- 
formed of the precise circumstances of the death ; she was 
not clearly aware that Mr. Baines had died through a piece of 
neglect. But, like Mr. Critchlow, she was convinced that 
there had been only one person in the world truly capable of 
nursing Mr. Baines. Beyond the family, no one save Mr. 
Critchlow and Dr. Harrop knew just how the martyr had 
finished his career. Dr. Harrop, having been asked bluntly 
if an inquest would be necessary, had reflected a moment and 
had then replied : ' No." And he added, " Least said soon- 
est mended mark me ! " They had marked him. He was 
commonsense in breeches. 

As for Aunt Maria, she was sent about her snivelling busi- 
ness by Aunt Harriet. The arrival in the house of this 
genuine aunt from Axe, of this majestic and enormous widow 
whom even the imperial Mrs. Baines regarded with a certain 
awe, set a seal of ultimate solemnity on the whole event. In 
Mr. Povey's bedroom Mrs. Baines fell like a child into Aunt 
Harriet's arms and sobbed : 

" If it had been anything else but that elephant I " 

Such was Mrs. Baines's sole weakness from first to last. 

Aunt Harriet was ah exhaustless fountain of authority upon 
every detail concerning interments. And, to a series of 
questions ending with the word " sister," and answers ending 
with the word " sister," the prodigious travail incident to the 
funeral was gradually and successfully accomplished. Dress 
and the repast exceeded all other matters hi complexity and 
difficulty. But on the morning of the funeral Aunt Harriet 
had the satisfaction of beholding her younger sister the centre 
of a tremendous cocoon of crape, whose slightest pleat was 
perfect. Aunt Harriet seemed to welcome her then, like a 
veteran, formally into the august army of relicts. As they 
stood side by side surveying the special table which was being 
laid in the showroom for the repast, it appeared inconceivable 
that they had reposed together in Mr. Povey's limited bed. 



ELEPHANT. 91 

They descended from the showroom to the kitchen, where 
the last delicate dishes were inspected. The shop was, of 
course, closed for the day, but Mr. Povey was busy there, and 
in Aunt Harriet's all-seeing glance he came next after the 
dishes. She rose from the kitchen to speak with him. 

" You've got your boxes of gloves all ready ? " she ques- 
tioned him. 

" Yes, Mrs. Maddack." 

" You'll not forget to have a measure handy ? " 

" No, Mrs. Maddack." 

" You'll find you'll want more ot seven-and-three-quarters 
and eights than anything." 

" Yes. I have allowed for that." 

" If you place yourself behind the side-door and put your 
boxes on the harmonium, you'll be able to catch every one 
as they come in." 

" That is what I had thought of, Mrs. Maddack." 

She went upstairs. Mrs. Baines had reached the show- 
room again, and was smoothing out creases in the white 
damask cloth and arranging glass dishes of jam at equal dis- 
tances from each other. 

" Come, sister," said Mrs. Maddack. " A last look." 

And they passed into the mortuary bedroom to gaze at Mr. 
Baines before he should be everlastingly nailed down. In 
death he had recovered some of his earlier dignity ; but even 
so he was a startling sight. The two widows bent over him, 
one on either side, and gravely stared at that twisted, worn 
white face all neatly tucked up in linen. 

" I shall fetch Constance and Sophia," said Mrs. Maddack, 
with tears in her voice. " Do you go into the drawing-room, 
sister." 

But Mrs. Maddack only succeeded in fetching Constance. 

Then there was the 'sound of wheels in King Street. The 
long rite of the funeral was about to begin. Every guest, 
after having been measured and presented with a pair of the 
finest black kid gloves by Mr. Povey, had to mount the 
crooked stairs and gaze upon the carcase of John Baines, 
going afterwards to the drawing-room to condole briefly with 
the widow. And every guest, while conscious of the enor- 
mity of so thinking, thought what an excellent thing it was 
that John Baines should be at last dead and gone. The 
tramping on the stairs was continual, and finally Mr. Baines 
himself went downstairs, bumping against corners, and led a 
cortege of twenty vehicles. 

The funeral tea was not over at seven o'clock, five hours 
after the commencement of the rite. It was a gigantic and 



92 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

faultless meal, worthy of John Baines's distant past. Only 
two persons were absent from it John Baines and Sophia. 
The emptiness of Sophia's chair was much noticed ; Mrs. 
Maddack explained that Sophia was very high-strung and 
could not trust herself. Great efforts were put forth by the 
company to be lugubrious and inconsolable, but the secret 
relief resulting from the death would not be entirely hidden. 
The vast pretence of acute sorrow could not stand intact 
against that secret relief and the lavish richness of the food. 

To the offending of sundry important relatives from a dis- 
tance, Mr. Critchlow informally presided over that assemblage 
of grave men in high stocks and crinolined women. He had 
closed his shop, which had never before been closed on a week- 
day, and he had a great deal to say about this extraordinary 
closure. It was due as much to the elephant as to the funeral. 
The elephant had become a victim to the craze for souvenirs. 
Already in the night his tusks had been stolen ; then his feet 
disappeared for umbrella-stands, and most of his flesh had 
departed in little hunks. Everybody in Bursley had resolved 
to participate in the elephant. One consequence was that all 
the chemists' shops in the town were assaulted by strings of 
boys. " Please a pennorth o' alum to tak' smell out o' a bit 
o' elephant." Mr. Critchlow hated boys. 

" ' I'll alum ye ! ' says I, and I did. I alummed him out o' 
my shop with a pestle. If there'd been one there'd been 
twenty between opening and nine o'clock. ' George,' I says 
to my apprentice, ' shut shop up. My old friend John Baines 
is going to his long home to-day, and I'll close. I've had 
enough o' alum for one day.' ' 

The elephant fed the conversation until after the second 
relay of hot muffins. When Mr. Critchlow had etten to his 
capacity, he took the Signal importantly from his pocket, 
posed his spectacles, and read the obituary all through in 
slow, impressive accents. Before he reached the end Mrs. 
Baines began to perceive that familiarity had blinded her to 
the heroic qualities of her late husband. The fourteen years 
of ceaseless care were quite genuinely forgotten, and she saw 
him in his strength and in his glory. When Mr. Critchlow 
arrived at the eulogy of the husband and father, Mrs. Baines 
rose and left the showroom. The guests looked at each other 
in sympathy for her. Mr Critchlow shot a glance at her over 
his spectacles and continued steadily reading. After he had 
finished he approached the question of the cenotaph. 

Mrs. Baines, driven from the banquet by her feelings, went 
into the drawing-room. Sophia was there, and Sophia, seeing 
tears in her mother's eyes, gave a sob, and flung herself bodily 



ELEPHANT. 93 

against her mother, clutching her, and hiding her face in that 
broad crape, which abraded her soft skin. 

' Mother," she wept passionately, " I want to leave the 
school now. I want to please you. I'll do anything in the 
world to please you. I'll go into the shop if you'd like me 
to I " Her voice lost itself in tears. 

" Calm yourself , my pet," said Mrs. Baines, tenderly, caress- 
ing her. It was a triumph for the mother in the very hour 
when she needed a triumph. 



CHAPTER V. 

THE TRAVELLER. 
I. 

" EXQUISITE, is. nd." 

These singular signs were being painted in shiny black on 
an unrectangular parallelogram of white cardboard by Con- 
stance one evening in the parlour. She was seated, with her 
left side to the fire and to the fizzing gas, at the dining-table, 
which was covered with a checked cloth in red and white. 
Her dress was of dark crimson ; she wore a cameo brooch and 
a gold chain round her neck ; over her shoulders was thrown 
a white knitted shawl, for the weather was extremely cold, 
the English climate being much more serious and downright 
at that day than it is now. She bent low to the task, holding 
her. head slightly askew, putting the tip of her tongue between 
her i^ps, and expending all the energy of her soul and body in 
an intense effort to do what she was doing as well as it could 
be done. 

" Splendid ! " said Mr. Povey. 

Mr. Povey was fronting her at the table ; he had his 
elbows on the table, and watched her carefully, with the 
breathless and divine anxiety of a dreamer who is witnessing 
the icalization of his dream. And Constance, without moving 
any part cf her frame except her head, looked up at him and 
smiled for a moment, and he could see her delicious little nos- 
trils at the end of her snub nose. 

Those two, without knowing or guessing it, were making 
history the history of commerce. They had no suspicion 
that they were the forces of the future insidiously at work to 
destroy what the forces of the past had created, but such was 
the case. They were conscious merely of a desire to do their 
duty in tlie shop and to the shop ; probably, it had not even 
occurred to them that this desire, which each stimulated in the 



THE TRAVELLER. 95 

breast of the other, had assumed the dimensions of a passion. 
It was ageing Mr. Povey, and it had made of Constance a 
young lady tremendously industrious and preoccupied. 

Mr. Povey had recently been giving attention to the ques- 
tion of tickets. It is not too much to say that Mr. Povey, to 
whom heaven had granted a minimum share of imagination, 
had nevertheless discovered his little parcel of imagination in 
the recesses of being, and brought it effectively to bear on 
tickets. Tickets ran in conventional grooves. There were 
heavy oblong tickets for flannels, shirting, and other stuffs 
in the piece ; there were smaller and lighter tickets for in- 
termediate goods ; and there were diamond-shaped tickets 
(containing nothing but the price) for bonnets, gloves, and 
flim-flams generally. The legends on the tickets gave no 
sort of original invention. The words " lasting," " durable," 
"unshrinkable," "latest," "cheap," "stylish," "novelty," 
" choice " (as an adjective), " new," and " tasteful," ex- 
hausted the entire vocabulary of tickets. Now Mr. Povey 
attached importance to tickets, and since he was acknow- 
ledged to be the best window-dresser in Bursley, his views 
were entitled to respect. He dreamed of other tickets, in 
original shapes, with original legends. In brief, he achieved, 
in regard to tickets, the rare feat of ridding himself of precon- 
ceived notions, and of approaching a subject with fresh, 
virginal eyes. When he indicated the nature of his wishes to 
Mr. Chawner, the wholesale stationer who supplied all the Five 
Towns with shop-tickets, Mr. Chawner grew uneasy and 
worried ; Mr. Chawner was indeed shocked. For Mr. Chaw- 
ner there had always been certain well-defined genera of 
tickets, and he could not conceive the existence of other 
genera. When Mr. Povey suggested circular tickets tickets 
with a blue and a red line round them, tickets with legends 
such as " unsurpassable," " very dainty," or " please note," 
Mr. Chawner hummed and hawed, and finally stated that 
it would be impossible to manufacture these preposterous 
tickets, these tickets which would outrage the decency of 
trade. 

If Mr. Povey had not happened to be an exceedingly ob- 
stinate man, he might have been defeated by the crass Tory- 
ism of Mr. Chawner. But Mr. Povey was obstinate, and he 
had resources of ingenuity which Mr. Chawner little suspected. 
The great, tramping march of progress was not to be impeded 
by Mr. Chawner. Mr. Povey began to make his own tickets. 
At first he suffered as all reformers and inventors suffer. He 
used the internal surface of collar-boxes and ordinary ink and 
pens, and the result was such as to give customers the idea 



96 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

that Baineses were too poor or too mean to buy tickets like 
other shops. For bought tickets had an ivory-tinted gloss, 
and the ink was black and glossy, and the edges were very 
straight and did not show yellow between two layers of 
white. Whereas Mr. Povey's tickets were of a bluish-white, 
without gloss ; the ink was neither black nor shiny, and the 
edges were amateurishly rough : the tickets had an unmis- 
takable air of having been " made out of something else " ; 
moreover, the lettering had not the free, dashing style of 
Mr. Chawner's tickets. 

And did Mrs. Baines encourage him in his single-minded 
enterprise on behalf of her business ? Not a bit ! Mrs. 
Baines's attitude, when not disdainful, was inimical ! So 
curious is human nature, so blind is man to his own advan- 
tage ! Life was very complex for Mr. Povey. It might have 
been less complex had Bristol board and Chinese ink been 
less expensive ; with these materials he could have achieved 
marvels to silence all prejudice and stupidity ; but they were 
too costly. Still, he persevered, and Constance morally sup- 
ported him ; he drew his inspiration and his courage from 
Constance. Instead of the internal surface of collar-boxes, 
he tried the external surface, which was at any rate shiny. 
But the ink would not " take " on it. He made as many 
experiments as Edison was to make, and as many failures. 
Then Constance was visited by a notion for mixing sugar with 
ink. Simple, innocent creature why should providence 
have chosen her to be the vessel of such a sublime notion ? 
Puzzling enigma, which, however, did not exercise Mr. Povey ! 
He found it quite natural that she should save him. Save 
him she did. Sugar and ink would " take " on anything, 
and it shone like a " patent leather " boot. Further, Con- 
stance developed a " hand " for lettering which outdid Mr. 
Povey's. Between them they manufactured tickets by the 
dozen and by the score tickets which, while possessing 
nearly all the smartness and finish of Mr. Chawner's tickets, 
were much superior to these in originality and strikingness. 
Constance and Mr. Povey were delighted and fascinated by 
them. As for Mrs. Baines, she said little, but the modern 
spirit was too elated by its success to care whether she said 
little or much. And every few days Mr. Povey thought of 
some new and wonderful word to put on a ticket. 

His last miracle was the word " exquisite." " Exquisite," 
pinned on a piece of broad tartan ribbon, appeared* to Con- 
stance and Mr. Povey as the finality of appropriateness. A 
climax worthy to close the year ! Mr. Povey had cut the 
card and sketched the word and figures in pencil, and Con- 



THE TRAVELLER. 97 

stance was doing her executive portion of the undertaking. 
They were very happy, very absorbed, in this strictly business 
matter. The clock showed five minutes past ten. Stern 
duty, a pure desire for the prosperity of the shop, had kept 
them at hard labour since before eight o'clock that morning ! 

The stairs-door opened, and Mrs. Baines appeared, in bon- 
net and furs and gloves, all clad for going out. She had 
abandoned the cocoon of crape, but still wore weeds. She 
was stouter than ever. 

" What ! " she cried. " Not ready ! Now really ! " 

" Oh, mother ! How you made me jump ! " Constance 
protested. " What time is it ? It surely isn't time to go 
yet ! " 

" Look at the clock ! " said Mrs. Baines, drily. 

" Well, I never ! " Constance murmured, confused. 

" Come, put your things together, and don't keep me wait- 
ing," said Mrs. Baines, going past the table to the window, 
and lifting the blind to peep out. " Still snowing," she ob- 
served. " Oh, the band's going away at last ! I wonder 
how they can play at all in this weather. By the way, what 
was that tune they gave us just now ? I couldn't make out 
whether it was ' Redhead,' or " 

" Band ? " questioned Constance the simpleton ! 

Neither she nor Mr. Povey had heard the strains of the 
Bursley Town Silver Prize Band which had been enlivening 
the season according to its usual custom. These two prac- 
tical, duteous, commonsense young and youngish persons 
had been so absorbed in their efforts for the welfare of the shop 
that they had positively not only forgotten the time, but had 
also failed to notice the band ! But if Constance had had 
.her wits about her. she would at least have pretended that 
she had heard it. 

" What's this ? " asked Mrs. Baines, bringing her vast 
form to the table and picking up a ticket. 

Mr. Povey said nothing. Constance said : " Mr. Povey 
thought of it to-day. Don't you think it's very good, 
mother ? " 

" I'm afraid I don't," Mrs. Baines coldly replied. 

She had mildly objected already to certain words ; but 
" exquisite " seemed to her silly ; it seemed out of place ; 
she considered that it would merely bring ridicule on her 
shop. " Exquisite " written upon a window-ticket ! No ! 
What would John Baines have thought of " exquisite " ? 

' Exquisite ! ' She repeated the word with a sarcastic 
inflection, putting the accent, as every one put it, on the 
second syllable. " I don't think that will quite do." 

4 



98 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" But why not, mother ? " 

" It's not suitable, my dear." 

She dropped the ticket from her gloved hand. Mr. Povey 
had darkly flashed. Though he spoke little, he was as sensi- 
tive as he was obstinate. On this occasion he said nothing. 
He expressed his feelings by seizing the ticket and throwing 
it into the fire. 

The situation was extremely delicate. Priceless employes 
like Mr. Povey cannot be treated as machines, and Mrs. 
Baines of course instantly saw that tact was needed. 

" Go along to my bedroom and get ready, my pet," said 
she to Constance. ' ' Sophia is there. There's a good fire. I 
must just speak to Maggie." She tactfully left the room. 

Mr. Povey glanced at the fire and the curling red remains 
of the ticket. Trade was bad ; owing to weather and war, 
destitution was abroad ; and he had been doing his utmost 
for the welfare of the shop ; and here was the reward ! 

Constance's eyes were full of tears. " Never mind 1 " she 
murmured, and went upstairs. 

It was all over in a moment. 



II. 

In the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Duck Bank there 
was a full and influential congregation. For in those days 
influential people were not merely content to live in the town 
where their fathers had lived, without dreaming of country resi- 
dences and smokeless air they were content also to believe 
what their fathers had believed about the beginning and end 
of all. There was no such thing as the unknowable in those 
days. The et'ernal mysteries were as simple as an addition 
sum ; a child could tell you with absolute certainty where 
you would be and what you would be doing a million years 
hence, and exactly what God thought of you. Accordingly, 
every one being of the same mind, every one met on certain 
occasions in certain places in order to express the universal 
mind. And in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, for example, 
instead of a sparse handful of persons disturbingly conscious 
of being in a minority, as now, a magnificent and proud 
majority had collected, deeply aware of its rightness and its 
correctness. 

And the minister, backed by minor ministers, knelt and 
covered his face in the superb mahogany rostrum ; and be- 
hind him, in what was then still called the " orchestra " 



THE TRAVELLER. 99 

(though ho musical instruments except the grand organ had 
sounded in it for decades), the choir knelt and covered their 
faces ; and all around, in the richly painted gallery and on 
the ground-floor, multitudinous rows of people, in easy cir- 
cumstances of body and soul, knelt in high pews and covered 
their faces. And there floated before them, in the intense and 
' prolonged silence, the clear vision of Jehovah on a throne, a 
God of sixty or so with a moustache and a beard, and a non- 
committal expression which declined to say whether or not 
he would require more bloodshed ; and this God, destitute 
of pinions, was surrounded by white- winged creatures that 
wafted themselves to and fro while chanting ; and afar off 
was an obscene monstrosity, with cloven hoofs and a tail, 
very dangerous and rude and interfering, who could exist 
comfortably in the middle of a coal-fire, and who took a malig- 
nant and exhaustlfess pleasure in coaxing you by false pre- 
tences into the same fire ; but of course you had too much 
sense to swallow his wicked absurdities. Once a year, for ten . 
minutes by the clock, you knelt thus, in mass, and by medita- 
tion convinced yourself that you had too much sense to swal- 
low his wicked absurdities. And the hour was very solemn, 
the most solemn of all the hours. 

Strange that immortal souls should be found with the 
temerity to reflect upon mundane affairs in that hour ! Yet 
there were undoubtedly such in the congregation ; there were 
perhaps many to whom the vision, if clear, was spasmodic 
and fleeting. And among them the inhabitants of the Baines 
family pew ! Who would have supposed that Mr. Povey, a 
recent convert from Primitive Methodism in King Street to 
Wesleyan Methodism on Duck Bank, was dwelling upon win- 
dow-tickets and the injustice of women, instead of upon his 
relations with Jehovah and the tailed one ? Who would 
have supposed that the gentle-eyed Constance, pattern of 
daughters, was risking her eternal welfare by smiling at the 
tailed one, who, concealing his tail, had assumed the image 
of Mr. Povey ? Who would have supposed that Mrs. Baines, 
instead of resolving that Jehovah and not the tailed one 
should have ultimate rule over her, was resolving that she 
and not Mr. Povey should have ultimate rule over her house 
and shop ? It was a pew-ful that belied its highly satisfac- 
tory appearance. (And possibly there were other pew-fuls 
equally deceptive.) 

Sophia alone, in the corner next to the wall, with her beauti- 
ful stern face pressed convulsively against her hands, was 
truly busy with immortal things. Turbulent heart, the vio- 
lence of her spiritual life had made her older 1 Never was a 



ioo THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

passionate, proud girl in a harder case than Sophia ! In the 
splendour of her remorse for a fatal forgetfulness, she had re- 
nounced that which she loved and thrown herself into that 
which she loathed. It was her nature so to do. She had 
done it haughtily, 'and not with kindness, but she had done it 
with the whole force of her will. Constance had been com- 
pelled to yield up to her the millinery department, for Sophia's 
fingers had a gift of manipulating ribbons and feathers that 
was beyond Constance. Sophia had accomplished miracles 
in the millinery. Yes, and she would be utterly polite to 
customers ; but afterwards, when the customers were gone, 
let mothers, sisters, and Mr. Poveys beware of her fiery darts ! 

But why, when nearly three months had elapsed after her 
father's death, had she spent more and more time in the shop, 
secretly aflame with expectancy ? Why, when one day a 
strange traveller entered the shop and announced himself 
the new representative of Birkinshaws why had her very 
soul died away within her and an awful sickness seized her ? 
She knew then that she had been her own deceiver. She rec- 
ognized and admitted, abasing herself lower than the lowest, 
that her motive in leaving Miss Chetwynd's and joining the 
shop had been, at the best, very mixed, very impure. En- 
gaged at Miss Chetwynd's, she might easily have never set 
eyes on Gerald Scales again. Employed in the shop, she 
could not fail to meet him. In this light was to be seen the 
true complexion of the splendour of her remorse. A terrible 
thought for her ! And she could not dismiss it. It contam- 
inated her existence, this thought ! And she could confide 
in no one. She was incapable of showing a wound. Quarter 
had succeeded quarter, and Gerald Scales was no more 
heard of. She had sacrificed her life for worse than nothing. 
She had made her own tragedy. She had killed her father, 
cheated and shamed herself with a remorse horribly spurious, 
exchanged content for misery and pride for humiliation 
and with it all, Gerald Scales had vanished ! She was ruined. 

She took to religion, and her conscientious Christian vir- 
tues, practised with stern inclemency, were the canker of the 
family. Thus a year and a half had passed. 

And then, on this last day of the year, the second year of 
her shame and of her heart's widowhood, Mr. Scales had reap- 
peared. She had gone casually into the shop and found him 
talking to her mother and Mr. Povey. He had come back to 
the provincial round and to her. She shook his hand and 
fled, because she could not have stayed. None had noticed 
her agitation, for she had held her body as hi a vice. She 
knew the reason neither of his absence nor of his return. 



THE TRAVELLER. 101 

She knew nothing. And not a word had been said at meals. 
And the day had gone and the night come ; and now she was 
in chapel, with Constance by her side and Gerald Scales in 
her soul ! Happy beyond previous conception of happiness ! 
Wretched beyond an unutterable woe ! And none knew ! 
What was she to pray for ? To what purpose and end ought 
she to steel herself ? Ought she to hope, or ought she to 
despair ? " O God, help me ! " she kept whispering to Jeho- 
vah whenever the heavenly vision shone through the wrack 
of her meditation. " O God, help me ! " She had a con- 
science that, when it was in the mood for severity, could be 
unspeakably cruel to her. 

And whenever she looked, with dry, hot eyes, through her 
gloved fingers, she saw in front of her on the wall a marble 
tablet inscribed in gilt letters, the cenotaph ! She knew all 
the lines by heart, in their spacious grandiloquence ; lines 
such as : 

EVER READY WITH HIS TONGUE HIS PEN AND HIS PURSE 

TO HELP THE ( CHURCH OF HIS FATHERS 

IN HER HE LIVED AND IN HER HE DIED 

CHERISHING A DEEP AND ARDENT AFFECTION 

FOR HIS BELOVED FAITH AND CREED. 

And again : 

HIS SYMPATHIES EXTENDED BEYOND HIS OWN COMMUNITY 

HE WAS ALWAYS TO THE FORE IN GOOD WORKS 

AND HE SERVED THE CIRCUIT THE TOWN AND THE DISTRICT 

WITH GREAT ACCEPTANCE AND USEFULNESS. 

Thus had Mr. CritchloVs vanity been duly appeased. 

As the minutes sped in the breathing silence of the chapel 
the emotional tension grew tighter ; worshippers sighed 
heavily, or called upon Jehovah for a sign, or merely coughed 
an invocation. And then at last the clock in the middle of 
the balcony gave forth the single stroke to which it was 
limited ; the ministers rose, and the congregation after them ; 
and everybody smiled as though it was the 'millennium, and 
not simply the new year, that had set in. Then, faintly, 
through walls and shut windows, came the sound of bells 
and of steam syrens and whistles. The superintendent 
minister opened his hymn-book, and the hymn was sung 
which had been sung in Wesleyan Chapels on New Year's 
morn since the era of John Wesley himself. The organ 
finished with a clangour of all its pipes ; the minister had a 
few last words with Jehovah, and nothing was left to do ex- 



102 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

cept to persevere in well-doing. The people leaned towards 
each other across the high backs of the pews. 

" A happy New Year ! " 

" Eh, thank ye ! The same to you ! " 

" Another Watch-Night service over ! " 

" Eh, yes ! " And a sigh. 

Then the aisles were suddenly crowded, and there was a 
good-humoured, optimistic pushing towards the door. In 
the Corinthian porch occurred a great putting-on of cloaks, 
ulsters, goloshes, and even pattens, and a great putting-up of 
umbrellas. And the congregation went out into the whirling 
snow, dividing into several black, silent-footed processions, 
down Trafalgar Road, .up towards the playground, along the 
market-place, and across Duck Square in the direction of 
St. Luke's Square. 

Mr. Povey was between Mrs. Baines and Constance. 

" You must take my arm, my pet," said Mrs. Baines to 
Sophia. 

Then Mr. Povey and Constance waded on in front through 
the drifts. Sophia balanced that enormous swaying mass, 
her mother. Owing to their hoops, she had much difficulty 
in keeping close to her. Mrs. Baines laughed with the com- 
placent ease of obesity, yet a fall would have been almost 
irremediable for her ; and so Sophia had to laugh too. 
But, though she laughed, God had not helped her. She did 
not know where she was going, nor what might happen 
to her next. 

" Why, bless us ! " exclaimed Mrs. Baines, as they turned 
the corner into King Street. " There's some one sitting on 
our doorstep ! " 

There was : a figure swathed in an ulster, a maud over the 
ulster, and a high hat on the top of all. It could not have 
been there very long, because it was only speckled with 
snow. Mr. Povey plunged forward. 

" It's Mr. Scales, of all people ! " said Mr. Povey. 

" Mr. Scales ! " cried Mrs. Baines. 

And, " Mr. Scales ! " murmured Sophia, terribly afraid. 

Perhaps she was afraid of miracles. Mr. Scales sitting on 
her mother's doorstep in the middle of the snowy night had 
assuredly the air of a miracle, of something dreamed in a 
dream, of something pathetically and impossibly appro- 
priate " pat," as they say in the Five Towns. But he was 
a tangible fact there. And years afterwards, in the light of 
further knowledge of Mr. Scales, Sophia came to regard his 
being on the doorstep as the most natural and characteristic 
thing in the world. Real miracles never seem to be miracles, 



THE TRAVELLER. 103 

and that which at the first blush resembles one usually proves 
to be an instance of the extremely prosaic. 



III. 

" Is that you, Mrs. Baines ? " asked Gerald Scales, in a 
half-witted voice, looking up, and then getting to his feet. 
" Is this your house ? So it is ! Well, I'd no idea I was 
sitting on your doorstep." 

He smiled timidly, nay, sheepishly, while the women and 
Mr. Povey surrounded him with their astonished faces under 
the light of the gas-lamp. Certainly he was very pale. 

" But whatever is the matter, Mr. Scales ? " Mrs. Baines 
demanded in an anxious tone. " Are you ill ? Have you 
been suddenly " 

" Oh no," said the young man lightly. " It's nothing. 
Only I was set on just now, down there," he pointed to the 
depths of King Street. 

" Set on 1 " Mrs. Baines repeated, alarmed. 

" That makes the fourth case in a week, that we know of ! " 
said Mr. Povey. " It really is becoming a scandal." 

The fact was that, owing to depression of trade, lack of 
employment, and rigorous weather, public security in the 
Five Towns was at that period not as perfect as it ought to 
have been. In the stress of hunger the lower classes were 
forgetting their manners and this in spite of the altruistic 
and noble efforts of their social superiors to relieve the desti- 
tution due, of course, to short-sighted improvidence. When 
(the social superiors were asking in despair) will the lower 
classes learn to put by for a rainy day ? (They might have 
said a snowy and a frosty day.) It was " really too bad " 
of the lower classes, when everything that could be done was 
being done for them, to kill, or even attempt to kill, the goose 
that lays the golden eggs ! And especially in a respectable 
town ! What, indeed, were things coming to ? Well, here 
was Mr. Gerald Scales, gentleman from Manchester, a wit- 
ness and victim to the deplorable moral condition of the 
Five Towns. What would he think of the Five Towns ? 
The evil and the danger had been a topic of discussion in the 
shop for a week past, and now it was brought home to them. 

" I hope you weren't " said Mrs. Baines, apologetically 
and sympathetically. 

" Oh no ! " Mr. Scales interrupted her quite gaily. " I 
managed to beat them off. Only my elbow " 



io 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Meanwhile it was continuing to snow. 

" Do come in ! " said Mrs. Baines. 

."I couldn't think of troubling you," said Mr. Scales. 
"I'm all right now, and I can find my way to the Tiger." 

" You must come in, if it's only for a minute," said Mrs. 
Baines, with decision. She had to think of the honour of the 
town. 

" You're very kind," said Mr. Scales. 

The door was suddenly opened from within, and Maggie 
surveyed them from the height of the two steps. 

" A happy New Year, mum, to all of you." 

" Thank you, Maggie," said Mrs. Baines, and primly added : 
" The same to you ! " And in her own mind she said that 
Maggie could best prove her desire for a happy new year by 
contriving in future not to " scamp her corners," and not to 
break so much crockery. 

Sophia, scarce knowing what she did, mounted the steps. 

" Mr. Scales ought to let our New Year in, my pet," Mrs. 
Baines stopped her. 

" Oh, of course, mother! " Sophia concurred with a gasp, 
springing back nervously. 

Mr. Scales raised his hat, and duly let the new year, and 
much snow, into the Baines parlour. And there was a vast 
deal of stamping of feet, agitating of umbrellas, and shaking 
of cloaks and ulsters on the doormat in the corner by the 
harmonium. And Maggie took away an armful of everything 
snowy, including goloshes, and received instructions to boil 
milk and to bring "mince." Mr. Povey said " B-r-r-r ! " 
and shut the door (which was bordered with felt to stop ven- 
tilation) ; Mrs. Baines turned up the gas till it sang, and told 
Sophia to poke the fire, and actually told Constance to light 
the second gas. 

Excitement prevailed. 

The placidity of existence had been agreeably disturbed 
(yes, agreeably, in spite of horror at the attack on Mr. Scales's 
elbow) by an adventure. Moreover, Mr. Scales proved to be 
in evening-dress. And nobody had ever worn evening-dress 
in that house before. 

Sophia's blood was in her face, and it remained there, en- 
hancing the vivid richness of her beauty. She was dizzy with 
a strange and disconcerting intoxication. She seemed to be 
in a world of unrealities and incredibilities. Her ears heard 
with indistinctness, and the edges of things and people had 
a prismatic colouring. She was in a state of ecstatic, un- 
reasonable, inexplicable happiness. All her misery, doubts, 
despair, rancour, churlishness, had disappeared. She was 



THE TRAVELLER. 105 

as softly gentle as Constance. Her eyes were the eyes of a 
fawn, and her gestures delicious in their modest and sensi- 
tive grace. Constance was sitting on the sofa, and, after 
glancing about as if for shelter, she sat down on the sofa by 
Constance's side. She tried not to stare at Mr. Scales, but 
her gaze would not leave him. She was sure that he was the 
most perfect man in the world. A shortish man, perhaps, 
but a perfect. That such perfection could be was almost 
past her belief. He excelled all her dreams of the ideal man. 
His smile, his voice, his hand, his hair never were such ! 
Why, when he spoke it was positively music ! When he 
smiled it was heaven ! His smile, to Sophia, was one of 
those natural phenomena which are so lovely that they make 
you want to shed tears. There is no hyperbole in this de- 
scription of Sophia's sensations, but rather an under-statement 
of them. She was utterly obsessed by the unique qualities 
of Mr. Scales. Nothing would have persuaded her that the 
peer of Mr. Scales existed among men, or could possibly exist. 
And it was her in tense -and profound conviction of his com- 
plete pre-eminence that gave him, as he sat there in the rock- 
ing-chair in her mother's parlour, that air of the unreal and 
the incredible. 

" I stayed in the town on purpose to go to a New Year's 
party at Mr. Lawton's," Mr. Scales was saying. 

" Ah ! So you know Lawyer Lawton ! " observed Mrs. 
Baines, impressed, for Lawyer Lawton did not consort with 
tradespeople. He was jolly with them, and he did their 
legal business for them, but he was not of them. His friends 
came from afar. 

" My people are old acquaintances of his," said Mr. Scales, 
sipping the milk which Maggie had brought. 

" Now, Mr. Scales, you must taste my mince. A happy 
month for every tart you eat, you know," Mrs. Baines re- 
minded him. 

He bowed. " And it was as I was coming away from there 
that I got into difficulties." He laughed. 

Then he recounted the struggle, which had, however, been 
brief, as the assailants lacked pluck. He had slipped and 
fallen on his elbow on the kerb, and his elbow might have 
been broken, had not the snow been so thick. No, it did not. 
hurt him now ; doubtless a mere bruise. It was fortunate 
that the miscreants had not got the better of him, for he had 
in his pocket-book a considerable sum of money in notes 
accounts paid ! He had often thought what an excellent 
thing it would be if commercials could travel with dogs, par- 
ticularly in winter. There was nothing like a dog. 



io6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" You are fond of dogs ? " asked Mr. Povey, who had 
always had a secret but impracticable ambition to keep a dog. 

" Yes," said Mr. Scales, turning now to Mr. Povey. 

" Keep one ? " asked Mr. Povey, in a sporting tone. 

" I have a fox-terrier bitch," said Mr. Scales, " that took 
a first at Knutsford ; but she's getting old now." 

The sexual epithet fell queerly on the room. Mr. Povey, 
being a man of the world, behaved as if nothing had hap- 
pened ; but Mrs. Baines's curls protested against this un- 
necessary coarseness. Constance pretended not to hear. 
Sophia did not understandingly hear. Mr. Scales had no 
suspicion that he was transgressing a convention by virtue 
of which dogs have no sex. Further, he had no suspicion of 
the local fame of Mrs. Baines's mince-tarts. He had already 
eaten more mince-tarts than he could enjoy, before beginning 
upon hers, and Mrs. Baines missed the enthusiasm to which 
she was habituated from consumers of her pastry. 

Mr. Povey, fascinated, proceeded in the direction of dogs, 
and it grew more and more evident that Mr. Scales, who went 
out to parties in evening dress, instead of going in respect- 
able broadcloth to watch-night services, who knew the great 
ones of the land, and who kept dogs of an inconvenient sex, 
was neither an ordinary commercial traveller nor the kind of 
man to which the Square was accustomed. He came from a 
different world. 

" Lawyer Lawton's party broke up early at least I mean, 
considering " Mrs. Baines hesitated. 

After a pause Mr. Scales replied, " Yes, I left immediately 
the clock struck twelve. I've a heavy day to-morrow I 
mean to-day." 

It was not an hour for a prolonged visit, and in a few 
minutes Mr. Scales was ready again to depart. He admitted 
a certain feebleness (" wankiness," he playfully called it, 
being proud of his skill in the dialect), and a burning in his 
elbow ; but otherwise he was quite well thanks to Mrs. 
Baines's most kind hospitality . . . He really didn't know 
how he came to be sitting on her doorstep. Mrs. Baines 
urged him, if he met a policeman on his road to the Tiger, to 
furnish all particulars about the attempted highway robbery, 
and he said he decidedly would. 

He took his leave with distinguished courtliness. 

" If I have a moment I shall run in to-morrow morning 
just to let you know I'm all right," said he, in the white 
street. 

" Oh, do I " said Constance. Constance's perfect inno- 
cence made her strangely forward at times. 



THE TRAVELLER. 107 

" A happy New Year and many of them ! " 

" Thanks ! Same to you ! Don't get lost." 

" Straight up the Square and first on the right," called the 
commonsense of Mr. Povey. 

Nothing else remained to say, and the visitor disappeared 
silently in the whirling snow. " Brrr ! " murmured Mr. 
Povey, shutting the door. Everybody felt : " What a funny 
ending of the old year ! " 

" Sophia, my pet," Mrs. Baines began. 

But Sophia had vanished to bed. 

" Tell her about her new night-dress," said Mrs. Baines to 
Constance. 

" Yes, mother." 

" I don't know that I'm so set up with that young man, 
after all," Mrs. Baines reflected aloud. 

" Oh, mother ! " Constance protested. " I think he's just 
lovely." 

" He never looks you straight in the face," said Mrs. Baines. 

" Don't tell me ! " laughed Constance, kissing her mother 
good night. " You're only on your high horse because he 
didn't praise your mince. / noticed it." 



IV. 

" If anybody thinks I'm going to stand the cold in this 
showroom any longer, they're mistaken," said Sophia the 
next morning loudly, and in her mother's hearing. And she 
went down into the shop carrying bonnets. 

She pretended to be angry, but she was not. She felt, on 
the contrary, extremely joyous, and charitable to all the 
world. Usually she would take pains to keep out of the 
shop ; usually she was preoccupied and stern. Hence her 
presence on the ground-floor, and her demeanour, excited in- 
terest among the three young lady assistants who sat sewing 
round the stove in the middle of the shop, sheltered by the 
great piles of shirtings and linseys that fronted the entrance. 

Sophia shared Constance's corner. They had hot bricks 
under their feet, and fine-knitted wraps on their shoulders. 
They would have been more comfortable near the stove, but 
greatness has its penalties. The weather was exceptionally 
severe. The windows were thickly frosted over, so that Mr. 
Povey's art in dressing them was quite wasted. And rare 
phenomenon ! the doors of the shop were shut. In the 
ordinary way they were not merely open, but hidden by a 



io8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

display of " cheap lines." Mr. Povey, after consulting Mrs. 
Baines, had decided to close them, foregoing the customary 
display. Mr. Povey had also, in order to get a little warmth 
into his limbs, personally assisted two casual labourers to 
scrape the thick frozen snow off the pavement ; and he wore 
his kid mittens. All these things together proved better 
than the evidence of barometers how the weather nipped. 

Mr. Scales came about ten o'clock. Instead of going to 
Mr. Povey's counter, he walked boldly to Constance's corner, 
and looked over the boxes, smiling and saluting. Both the 
girls candidly delighted in his visit. Both blushed ; both 
laughed without knowing why they laughed. Mr. Scales 
said he was just departing and had slipped in for a moment 
to thank all of them for their kindness of last night " or 
rather this morning." The girls laughed again at this wit- 
ticism. Nothing could have been more simple than this 
speech. Yet it appeared to them magically attractive. A 
customer entered, a lady ; one of the assistants rose from 
the neighbourhood of the stove, but the daughters of the 
house ignored the customer ; it was part of the etiquette of 
the shop that customers, at any rate chance customers, should 
not exist for the daughters of the house, until an assistant 
had formally drawn attention to them. Otherwise every 
one who wanted a pennyworth of tape would be expecting 
to be served by Miss Baines, or Miss Sophia, if Miss Sophia 
were there. Which would have been ridiculous. 

Sophia, glancing sidelong, saw the assistant parleying with 
the customer ; and then the assistant came softly behind the 
counter and approached the corner. 

" Miss Constance, can you spare a minute ? " the assistant 
whispered discreetly. 

Constance extinguished her smile for Mr. Scales, and, turn- 
ing away, lighted an entirely different and inferior smile for 
the customer. 

" Good morning, Miss Baines. Very cold, isn't it ? " 

" Good morning, Mrs. Chatterley. Yes, it is. I suppose 
you're getting anxious about those " Constance stopped. 

Sophia was now alone with Mr. Scales, for in order to dis- 
cuss the unnameable freely with Mrs. Chatterley her sister was 
edging up the counter. Sophia had dreamed of a private 
conversation as something delicious and impossible. But 
chance had favoured her. She was alone with him. And his 
neat fair hair and his blue eyes and his delicate mouth were 
as wonderful to her as ever. He was gentlemanly to a degree 
that impressed her more than anything had impressed her in 
her life. And all the proud and aristocratic instinct that was 



THE TRAVELLER. 109 

at the base of her character sprang up and seized on his 
gentlemanliness like a famished animal seizing on food. 

" The last time I saw you," said Mr. Scales, in a new tone, 
" you said you were never in the shop." 

" What ? Yesterday ? Did I ? " 

" No, I mean the last time I saw you alone," said he. 

" Oh ! " she exclaimed. " It's just an accident." 

" That's exactly what you said last time." 

" Is it ? " 

Was it his manner, or what he said, that flattered her, 
that intensified her beautiful vivacity ? 

" I suppose you don't often go out ? " he went on. 

" What ? In this weather ? " 

" Any time." 

" I go to chapel," said she, " and marketing with mother." 
There was a little pause. " And to the Free Library." 

" Oh yes. You ve got a Free Library here now, haven't 
you ? " 

" Yes. We've had it over a year." 

" And you belong to it ? What do you read ? " 

" Oh, stories, you know. I get a fresh book out once a 
week." 

" Saturdays, I suppose ? " 

" No," she said. "Wednesdays." And she smiled. "Usu- 
ally." 

" It's Wednesday to-day," said he. " Not been al- 
ready ? " 

She shook her head. " I don't think I shall go to-day. 
It's too cold. I don't think I shall venture out to-day." 

" You must be very fond of reading," said he. 

Then Mr. Povey appeared, rubbing his mittened hands. 
And Mrs. Chatterley went. 

" I'll run and fetch mother," said Constance. 

Mrs. Baines was very polite to the young man. He related 
his interview with the police, whose opinion was that he had 
been attacked by stray members of a gang from Hanbridge. 
The young lady assistants, with ears cocked, gathered the 
nature of Mr. Scales's adventure, and were thrilled to the 
point of questioning Mr. Povey about it after Mr. Scales had 
gone. His farewell was marked by much handshaking, and 
finally Mr. Povey ran after him into the Square to mention 
something about dogs. 

At half-past one, while Mrs. Baines was dozing after dinner, 
Sophia wrapped herself up, and with a book under her arm 
went forth into the world, through the shop. She returned 
in less than twenty minutes. But her mother had already 



1 10 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

awakened, and was hovering about the back of the shop. 
Mothers have supernatural gifts. 

Sophia nonchalantly passed her and hurried into the par- 
lour, where she threw down her muff and a book and knelt 
before the fire to warm herself. 

Mrs. Baines followed her. " Been to the Library ? " 
questioned Mrs. Baines. 

" Yes, mother. And it's simply perishing." 

" I wonder at your going on a day like to-day. I thought 
you always went on Thursdays ? " 

" So I do. But I'd finished my book." 

" What is this ? " Mrs. Baines picked up the volume, 
which was covered with black oil-cloth. 

She picked it up with a hostile air. For her attitude to- 
wards the Free Library was obscurely inimical. She never 
read anything herself except The Sunday at Home, and Con- 
stance never read anything except The Sunday at Home. 
There were scriptural commentaries, Dugdale's Gazetteer, 
Culpepper's Herbal, and works by Bunyan and Flavius 
Josephus in the drawing-room bookcase ; also Uncle Tom's 
Cabin. And Mrs. Baines, in considering the welfare of her 
daughters, looked askance at the whole remainder of printed 
literature. If the Free Library had not formed part of the 
Famous Wedgwood Institution, which had been opened 
with immense eclat by the semi-divine Gladstone ; if the first 
book had not been ceremoniously " taken out " of the Free 
Library by the Chief Bailiff in person a grandfather of 
stainless renown Mrs. Baines would probably have risked 
her authority in forbidding the Free Library. 

"You needn't be afraid," said Sophia, laughing. " It's 
Miss Sewell's Experience of Life." 

" A novel, I see," observed Mrs. Baines, dropping the 
book. 

Gold and jewels would probably not tempt a Sophia of 
these days to read Experience of Life ; but to Sophia Baines 
the bland story had the piquancy of the disapproved. 

The next day Mrs. Baines summoned Sophia into her bed- 
room. 

" Sophia," she said, trembling, " I shall be glad if you will 
not walk about the streets with young men until you have 
my permission." 

The girl blushed violently. " I I " 

" You were seen in Wedgwood Street," said Mrs. Baines. 

" Who's been gossiping Mr. Critchlow, I suppose ? " 
Sophia exclaimed scornfully. 

No one has been ' gossiping,' " said Mrs. Baines. 



THE TRAVELLER. in 

" Well, if I meet some one by accident in the street, I can't 
help it, can I ? " Sophia's voice shook. 

You know what I mean, my child," said Mrs. Baines, 
with careful calm. 

Sophia dashed angrily from the room. 

" I like the idea of him having ' a heavy day ' ! " Mrs. 
Baines reflected ironically, recalling a phrase which had 
lodged in her mind. And very vaguely, with an uneasiness 
scarcely perceptible, she remembered that "he," and no other, 
had been in the shop on the day her husband died. 



CHAPTER VI. 

ESCAPADE. 
I. 

THE uneasiness of Mrs. Baines flowed and ebbed, during the 
next three months, influenced by Sophia's moods. There 
were days when Sophia was the old Sophia the forbidding, 
difficult, waspish, and even hedgehog Sophia. But there 
were other days on which Sophia seemed to be drawing joy 
and gaiety and goodwill from some secret source, from some 
fount whose nature and origin none could divine. It was on 
these days that the uneasiness of Mrs. Baines waxed. She 
had the wildest suspicions ; she was almost capable of accus- 
ing Sophia of carrying on a clandestine correspondence ; she 
saw Sophia and Gerald Scales deeply and wickedly in love ; 
she saw them with their arms round each other's necks. . . . 
And then she called herself a middle-aged fool, to base such a 
structure of suspicion on a brief encounter in the street and 
on an idea, a fancy, a curious and irrational notion ! Sophia 
had a certain streak of pure nobility in that exceedingly 
heterogeneous thing, her character. Moreover, Mrs. Baines 
watched the posts, and she also watched Sophia she was 
not the woman to trust to a streak of pure nobility and 
she came to be sure that Sophia's sinfulness, if any, was not 
such as could be weighed in a balance, or collected together 
by stealth and then suddenly placed before the girl on a 
charger. 

Still, she would have given much to see inside Sophia's 
lovely head. Ah ! Could she have done so, what sleep- 
destroying wonders she would have witnessed ! By what 
bright lamps burning in what mysterious grottoes and 
caverns of the brain would her mature eyes have been 
dazzled ! Sophia was living for months on the exhaustless 
ardent vitality absorbed during a magical two minutes in 



ESCAPADE. 113 

Wedgwood Street. She was living chiefly on 'the flaming 
fire struck in her soul by the shock of seeing Gerald Scales 
in the porch of the Wedgwood Institution as she came out 
of the Free Library with Experience of Life tucked into her 
large astrakhan muff. He had stayed to meet her, then : 
she knew it ! " After all," her heart said, " I must be very 
beautiful, for I have attracted the pearl of men ! " And 
she remembered her face in the glass. The value and the 
power of beauty were tremendously proved to her. He, 
the great man of the world, the handsome and elegant man 
with a thousand strange friends and a thousand interests 
far remote from her, had remained in Bursley on the mere 
chance of meeting her ! She was proud-, but her pride 
was drowned in bliss. " I was just looking at this inscrip- 
tion about Mr. Gladstone." " So you decided to come out 
as usual ! " " And may I ask what book you have chosen ? " 
These were the phrases she heard, and to which she re- 
sponded with similar phrases. And meanwhile a miracle of 
ecstasy had opened opened like a flower. She was walking 
along Wedgwood Street, by his side slowly, on the scraped 
pavements, where marble bulbs of snow had defied "the 
spade and remained. She and he were exactly of the same 
height, and she kept looking into his face and he into hers. 
This was all the miracle. Except that she was not walking 
on the pavement she was walking on the intangible sward 
of paradise ! Except that the houses had receded and faded, 
and the passers-by were subtilized into unnoticeable ghosts ! 
Except that her mother and Constance had become phantas- 
mal beings existing at an immense distance ! 

What had happened ? Nothing ! The most commonplace 
occurrence ! The eternal cause had picked up a commercial 
traveller (it might have been a clerk or curate, but it in fact 
was a commercial traveller), and endowed him with all the 
glorious, unique, incredible attributes of a god, and planted 
him down before Sophia in order to produce the eternal 
effect. A miracle performed specially for Sophia's benefit ! 
No one else in Wedgwood Street saw the god walking along 
by her side. No one else saw anything but a simple com- 
mercial traveller. Yes, the most commonplace occurrence ! 

Of course at the corner of the street he had to go. " Till 
next time ! " he murmured. And fire came out of his eyes 
and lighted in Sophia's lovely head those lamps which 
Mrs. Baines was mercifully spared from seeing. And he had 
shaken hands and raised his hat. Imagine a god raising 
his hat ! And he went off on two legs, precisely like a 
dashing little commercial traveller. 



ri4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

And, escorted by the equivocal Angel of Eclipses, she had 
turned into King Street, and arranged her face, and coura- 
geously met her mother. Her mother had not at first per- 
ceived the unusual ; for mothers, despite their reputation 
to the contrary, really are the blindest creatures. Sophia, 
the naive ninny, had actually supposed that her walking 
along a hundred yards of pavement with a god by her side 
was not going to excite remark ! What a delusion ! It 
is true, certainly, that no one saw the god by direct vision. 
But Sophia's cheeks, Sophia's eyes, the curve of Sophia's 
neck as her soul yearned towards the soul of the god 
these phenomena were immeasurably more notable than 
Sophia guessed. An account of them, in a modified form to 
respect Mrs. Baines's notorious dignity, had healed the 
mother of her blindness and led to that characteristic pro- 
test from her, " I shall be glad if you will not walk about 
the streets with young men," etc. 

When the period came for the reappearance of Mr. Scales, 
Mrs. Baines outlined a plan, and when the circular announc- 
ing the exact time of his arrival was dropped into the letter- 
box, she formulated the plan in detail. In the first place, 
she was determined to be indisposed and invisible herself, 
so that Mr. Scales might be foiled in any possible design 
to renew social relations in the parlour. In the second 
place, she flattered Constance with a single hint oh, the 
vaguest and briefest ! and Constance understood that she 
was not to quit the shop on the appointed morning. In 
the third place, she invented a way of explaining to Mr. Povey 
that the approaching advent of Gerald Scales must not be 
mentioned. And in the fourth place, she deliberately made 
appointments for Sophia with two millinery customers in 
the showroom, so that Sophia might be imprisoned in the 
showroom. 

Having thus left nothing to chance, she told herself that 
she was a foolish woman full of nonsense. But this did not 
prevent her from putting her lips together firmly and re- 
solving that Mr. Scales should have no finger in the pie 
of her family. She had acquired information concerning 
Mr. Scales, at second-hand, from Lawyer Pratt. More than 
this, she posed the question in a broader form why should 
a young girl be permitted any interest in any young man 
whatsoever ? The everlasting purpose had made use of 
Mrs. Baines and cast her off, and, like most persons in a 
similar situation, she was, unconsciously and quite honestly, 
at odds with the everlasting purpose. 



ESCAPADE. 115 



II. 

On the day of Mr. Scales 's visit to the shop to obtain 
orders and money on behalf of Birkinshaws, a singular 
success seemed to attend the machinations of Mrs. Baines. 
With Mr. Scales punctuality was not an inveterate habit, and 
he had rarely been known, in the past, to fulfil exactly the 
prophecy of the letter of advice concerning his arrival. 
But that morning his promptitude was unexampled. He 
entered the shop, and by chance Mr. Povey was arranging 
unshrinkable flannels in the doorway. The two youngish 
little men talked amiably about flannels, dogs, and quarter- 
day (which was just past), and then Mr. Povey led Mr. Scales 
to his desk in the dark corner behind the high pile of twills, 
and paid the quarterly bill, in notes and gold as always ; 
and then Mr. Scales offered for the august inspection of 
Mr. Povey all that Manchester had recently invented for 
the temptation of drapers, and Mr. Povey gave him an order 
which, if not reckless, was nearer " handsome " than " good." 
During the process Mr. Scales had to go out of the shop 
twice or three times in -order to bring in from his barrow 
at the kerbstone certain small black boxes edged with brass. 
On none of these excursions did Mr. Scales glance wantonly 
about him in satisfaction of the lust of the eye. Even if he 
had permitted himself this freedom he would have seen 
nothing more interesting than three young lady assistants 
seated round the stove and sewing with pricked fingers 
from which the chilblains were at last deciding to depart. 
When Mr. Scales had finished writing down the details of 
the order with his ivory-handled stylo, and repacked his 
boxes, he drew the interview to a conclusion after the manner 
of a capable commercial traveller ; that is to say, he implanted 
in Mr. Povey his opinion that Mr. Povey was a wise, a shrewd 
and an upright man, and that the world would be all the 
better for a few more like him. He inquired for Mrs. Baines, 
and was deeply pained to hear of her indisposition while 
finding consolation in the assurance that the Misses Baines 
were well. Mr. Povey was on the point of accompanying the 
pattern of commercial travellers to the door, when two 
customers simultaneously came in ladies. One made 
straight for Mr. Povey, whereupon Mr. Scales parted from 
him at once, it being a universal maxim in shops that even 
the most distinguished commercial shall not hinder the 
business of even the least distinguished customer. The 
other customer had the effect of causing Constance to pop 



n6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

up from her cloistral corner. Constance had been there 
aU the time, but of course, though she heard the remembered 
voice, her maidenliness had not permitted that she should 
show herself to Mr. Scales. 

Now, as he was leaving, Mr. Scales saw her, with her 
agreeable snub nose and her kind, simple eyes. She was 
requesting the second customer to mount to the showroom, 
where was Miss Sophia. Mr. Scales hesitated a moment, 
and in that moment Constance, catching his eye, smiled 
upon him, and nodded. What else could she do ? Vaguely 
aware though she was that her mother was not " set up " 
with Mr. Scales, and even feared the possible influence of 
the young man on Sophia, she could not exclude him from 
her general benevolence towards the universe. Moreover, 
she Sked him ; she liked him very much and thought him 
a very fine specimen of a man. 

He left the door and went across to her. They shook 
hands and opened a conversation instantly ; for Constance, 
while retaining all her modesty, had lost all her shyness 
in the shop, and could chatter with anybody. She sidled 
towards her corner, precisely as Sophia had done on another 
occasion, and Mr. Scales put his chin over the screening 
boxes, and eagerly prosecuted the conversation. 

There was absolutely nothing in the fact of the interview 
itself to cause alarm to a. mother, nothing to render futile 
the precautions of Mrs. Baines on behalf of the flower of 
Sophia's innocence. And yet it held danger for Mrs. Baines, 
all unconscious in her parlour. Mrs. Baines could rely 
utterly on Constance not to be led away by the dandiacal 
charms of Mr. Scales (she knew in what quarter sat the wind 
for Constance) ; in her plan she had forgotten nothing, 
except Mr. Povey ; and it must be said that she could not 
possibly have foreseen the effect on the situation of Mr. Povey's 
character. 

Mr. Povey, attending to his customer, had noticed the 
bright smile of Constance on the traveller, and his heart did 
not like it. And when he saw the lively gestures of a Mr. 
Scales in apparently intimate talk with a Constance hidden 
behind boxes, his uneasiness grew into fury. He was a man 
capable of black and terrible furies. Outwardly insignificant, 
possessing a mind as little as his body, easily abashed, he 
was none the less a very susceptible young man, soon offended, 
proud, vain, and obscurely passionate. You might offend 
Mr. Povey without guessing it, and only discover your sin 
when Mr. Povey had done something too decisive as a result 
of it. 



ESCAPADE. 117 

The reason of his fury was jealousy. Mr. Povey had made 
great advances since the death of John Baines. He had 
consolidated his position, and he was in every way a per- 
sonage of the first importance. His misfortune was that he 
could never translate his importance, or his sense of his 
importance, into terms of outward demeanour. Most 
people, had they been told that Mr. Povey was seriously 
aspiring to enter the Baines family, would have laughed. 
But they would have been wrong. To laugh at Mr. Povey 
was invariably 'wrong. Only Constance knew what inroads 
he had effected upon her. 

The customer went, but Mr. Scales did not go. Mr. Povey, 
free to reconnoitre, did so. From the shadow of the till he 
could catch glimpses of Constance's blushing, vivacious face. 
She was obviously absorbed' in Mr. Scales. She and he had 
a tremendous air of intimacy. And the murmur of their 
chatter continued. Their chatter was nothing, and about 
nothing, but Mr. Povey imagined that they were exchanging 
eternal vows. He endured Mr. Scales's odious freedom 
until it became insufferable, until it deprived him of all his 
self-control ; and then he retired into his cutting-out room. 
He meditated there in a condition of insanity for perhaps 
a minute, and excogitated a device. Dashing back into the 
shop, he spoke up, half across the shop, in a loud, curt tone : 

" Miss Baines, your mother wants you at once." 

He was launched on the phrase before he noticed that, 
during his absence, Sophia had descended from the show- 
room and joined her sister and Mr. Scales. The danger and 
scandal were now less, he perceived, but he was glad he had 
summoned Constance away, and he was in a state to despise 
consequences. 

The three chatterers, startled-, looked at Mr. Povey, who 
left the shop abruptly. Constance could do nothing but obey 
the call. 

She met him at the door of the cutting-out room in the 
passage leading to the parlour. 

" Where is mother ? In the parlour ? " Constance inquired 
innocently. 

There was a dark flush on Mr. Povey 's face. '' If you wish 
to know," said he in a hard voice, " she hasn't asked for you 
and she doesn't want you." 

He turned his back on her, and retreated into his lair. 

" Then what ? " she began, puzzled. 

He fronted her. " Haven't you been gabbling long enough 
with that jackanapes ? " he spit at her. There were tears in 
his eyes. 



n8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Constance, though without experience in these matters, 
comprehended. She comprehended perfectly and immedi- 
ately. She ought to have put Mr. Povey into his place. 
She ought to have protested with firm, dignified finality 
against such a ridiculous and monstrous outrage as that 
which Mr. Povey had committed. Mr. Povey ought to 
have been ruined for ever in her esteem and in her heart. 
But she hesitated. 

" And only last Sunday afternoon," Mr. Povey blubbered. 

(Not that anything overt had occurred, or been articulately 
said, between them last Sunday afternoon. But they had 
been alone together, and had each witnessed strange and 
disturbing matters in the eyes of the other.) 

Tears now fell suddenly from Constance's eyes. " You 
ought to be ashamed " she stammered. 

Still, the tears were in her eyes, and in his too. What he 
or she merely said, therefore, was of secondary importance. 

Mrs. Baines, coming from the kitchen, and hearing Con- 
stance's voice, burst upon the scene, which silenced her. 
Parents are sometimes silenced. She found Sophia and Mr. 
Scales in the shop. 



in. 

That afternoon Sophia, top busy with her own affairs to 
notice anything abnormal in the relations between her 
mother and Constance, and quite ignorant that there had 
been an unsuccessful plot against her, went forth to call 
upon Miss Chetwynd, with whom she had remained very 
friendly : she considered that she and Miss Chetwynd formed 
an aristocracy of intellect, and the family indeed tacitly 
admitted this. She practised no secrecy in her departure 
from the shop ; she merely dressed, in her second-best hoop, 
and went, having been ready at any moment to tell her 
mother, if her mother caught her and inquired, that she 
was going to see Miss Chetwynd. And she did go to see 
Miss Chetwynd, arriving at the house-school, which lay amid 
trees on the road to Turnhill, just beyond the turnpike, at 
precisely a quarter-past four. As Miss Chetwynd's pupils 
left at four o'clock, and as Miss Chetwynd invariably took 
a walk immediately afterwards, Sophia was able to contain 
her surprise upon being informed that Miss Chetwynd was 
not in. She had not intended that Miss Chetwynd should 
be in. 

She turned off to the right, up the side road which, start- 



ESCAPADE. 119 

ing from the turnpike, led in the direction of Moorthorne 
and Red Cow, two mining villages. Her heart beat with fear 
as she began to follow that road, for she was upon a terrific 
adventure. What most frightened her, perhaps, was her 
own astounding audacity. She was alarmed by something 
within herself which seemed to be no part of herself and 
which produced in her curious, disconcerting, fleeting im- 
pressions of unreality. 

In the morning she had heard the voice of Mr. Scales 
from the showroom that voice whose even distant murmur 
caused creepings of the skin in her back. And she had 
actually stood on the counter in front of the window in 
order to see down perpendicularly into the Square ; by so 
doing she had had a glimpse of the top of his luggage on a 
barrow, and of the crown of his hat occasionally when he 
went outside to tempt Mr. Povey. She might have gone 
down into the shop there was no slightest reason why she 
should not ; three months had elapsed since the name of 
Mr. Scales had been mentioned, and her mother had evidently 
forgotten the trifling incident of New Year's Day but she 
was incapable of descending the stairs ! She went to the 
head of the stairs and peeped through the balustrade and 
she could not get further. For nearly a hundred days those 
extraordinary lamps had been brightly burning in her head ; 
and now the light-giver had come again, and her feet would 
not move to the meeting ; now the moment had arrived for 
which alone she had lived, and she could not seize it as it 
passed ! " Why don't I go downstairs ? " she asked herself. 
" Am I afraid to meet him ? " 

The customer sent up by Constance had occupied the 
surface of her life for ten minutes, trying on hats ; and 
during this time she was praying wildly that Mr. Scales 
might not go, and asserting that it was impossible he should 
go without at least asking for her. Had she not counted 
the days to this day ? When the customer left, Sophia 
followed her downstairs, and saw Mr. Scales chatting with 
Constance. All her self-possession instantly returned to her, 
and she joined them with a rather mocking smile. After 
Mr. Povey's strange summons had withdrawn Constance 
from the corner, Mr. Scales's tone had changed ; it had 
thrilled her. " You are you," it had said, " there is you 
and there is the rest of the universe 1 " Then he had not for- 
gotten ; she had lived in his heart ; she had not for three 
months been the victim of her own fancies ! . . . She saw 
him put a piece of folded white paper on the top edge of 
the screening box and flick it down to her. She blushed 



120 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

scarlet, staring at it as it lay on the counter. He said noth- 
ing, and she could not speak. . . . He had prepared that 
paper, then, beforehand, on the -chance of being able to 
give it to her ! This thought was exquisite but full of ter- 
ror. " I must really go," he had said, lamely, with emotion 
in his voice, and he had gone like that ! And she put 
the piece of paper into the pocket of her apron, and hastened 
away. She had not even seen, as she turned up the stairs, 
her mother standing by the till that spot which was the con- 
ning-tower of the whole shop. She ran, ran, breathless to the 
bedroom. . . . 

" I am a wicked girl ! " she said quite frankly, on the 
road to the rendezvous. " It is a dream that I am going 
to meet him. It cannot be true. There is time to go back. 
If I go back I am safe. I have simply called at Miss Chet- 
wynd's and she wasn't in, and no one can say a word. But 
if I go on if I'm seen ! What a fool I am to go on ! " 

And she went on, impelled by, amongst other things, 
an immense, naive curiosity, and the vanity which the bare 
fact of his note had excited. The Loop railway was being 
constructed at that period, and hundreds of navvies were 
at work on it between Bursley and Turnhill. When she 
came to the new bridge over the cutting, he was there, as 
he had written that he would be. 

They were very nervous, they greeted each other stiffly 
and as though they had met then for the first time that 
day. Nothing was said about his note, nor about her re- 
sponse to it. Her presence was treated by both of them 
as a basic fact of the situation which it would be well not 
to disturb by comment. Sophia could not hide her shame, 
but her shame only aggravated the stinging charm of her 
beauty. She was wearing a hard Amazonian hat, with a 
lifted veil, the final word of fashion that spring in the Five 
Towns ; her face, beaten by the fresh breeze, shone rosily ; 
her eyes glittered under the dark hat, and the violent colours 
of her Victorian frock green and crimson could not spoil 
those cheeks. If she looked earthwards, frowning, she was 
the more adorable so. He had come down the clayey incline 
from the unfinished red bridge to welcome her, and when 
the salutations were over they stood still, he gazing appar- 
ently at the horizon and she at the yellow marl round the edges 
of his boots. The encounter was as far away from Sophia's 
ideal conception as Manchester from Venice. 

" So this is the new railway ! " said she. 

" Yes," said he. " This is your new railway. You can 
see it better from the bridge." 



ESCAPADE. 121 

" But it's very sludgy up there," she objected with a 
pout. 

" Further on it's quite dry," he reassured her. 

From the bridge they had a sudden view of a raw gash 
in the earth ; and hundreds of men were crawling about in 
it, busy with minute operations, like flies hi a great wound. 
There was a continuous rattle of picks, resembling a muffled 
shower of hail, and in the distance a tiny locomotive was 
leading a procession of tiny waggons. 

" And those are the navvies ! " she murmured. 

The unspeakable doings of the navvies in the Five Towns 
had reached even her : how they drank and swore all day on 
Sundays, how their huts and houses were dens of the most 
appalling infamy, how they were the curse of a God-fearing 
and respectable district ! She and Gerald Scales glanced 
down at these dangerous beasts of prey in their yellow 
corduroys and their open shirts revealing hairy chests. 
No doubt they both thought how inconvenient it was that 
railways could not be brought into existence without the 
aid of such revolting and swinish animals. They glanced 
down from the height of their nice decorum and felt the 
powerful attraction of similar superior manners. The 
manners of the navvies were such that Sophia could not 
even regard them, nor Gerald Scales permit her to regard 
them, without blushing. 

In a united blush they turned away, up the gradual 
slope. Sophia knew no longer what she was doing. For 
some minutes she was as helpless as though she had been 
in a balloon with him. 

" I got my work done early," he said ; and added com- 
placently, " As a matter of fact I've had a pretty good day." 

She was reassured to learn that he was not neglecting his 
duties. To be philandering with a commercial traveller who 
has finished a good day's work seemed less shocking than 
dalliance with a neglecter of business ; it seemed indeed, by 
comparison, respectable. 

" It must be very interesting," she said primly. 
What, my trade ? " 

Yes. Always seeing new places and so on." 
In a way it is," he admitted judicially. " But I can tell 
you it was much more agreeable being in Paris." 
Oh ! Have you been in Paris ? " 

Lived there for nearly two years," he said carelessly. 
Then, looking at her, " Didn't you notice I never came for a 
long time ? " 

" I didn't know you were in Paris," she evaded him. 



122 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" I went to start a sort of agency for Birkinshaws," he 
said. 

" I suppose you talk French like anything." 

" Of course one has to talk French," said he. " I learnt 
French when I was a child from a governess my uncle made 
me but I forgot most of it at school, and at the Varsity you 
never learn anything precious little, anyhow ! Certainly 
not French ! " 

She was deeply impressed. He was a much greater 
personage than she had guessed. It had never occurred 
to her that commercial travellers had to go to a university 
to finish their complex education. And then, Paris ! Paris 
meant absolutely nothing to her but pure, impossible, un- 
attainable romance. And he had been there ! The clouds 
of glory were around him. He was a hero, dazzling. He 
had come to her out of another world. He was her miracle. 
He was almost too miraculous to be true. 

She, living her humdrum life at the shop ! And he, ele- 
gant, brilliant, coming from far cities ! They together, side 
by side, strolling up the road towards the Moorthorne ridge ! 
There was nothing quite like this in the stories of Miss Sewell. 
Your uncle . . . ? " she questioned vaguely. 
Yes, Mr. Boldero. He's a partner in Birkinshaws." 
Oh! " 

You've heard of him ? He's a great Wesleyan." 
Oh yes," she said. " When We had the Wesleyan Con- 
ference here, he " 

" He's always very great at Conferences," said Gerald 
Scales. 

" I didn't know he had anything to do with Birkin- 
shaws." 

" He isn't a working partner of course," Mr. Scales ex- 
plained. " But he means me to be one. I have to learn 
the business from the bottom. So now you understand why 
I'm a traveller." 

" I see," she said, still more deeply impressed. 

" I'm an orphan," said Gerald. " And Uncle Boldero 
took me in hand when I was three." 

" I see ! " she repeated. 

It seemed strange to her that Mr. Scales should be a 
Wesleyan just like herself. She would have been sure 
that he was " Church." Her notions of Wesleyanism, with 
her notions of various other things, were sharply modified. 

" Now tell me about you," Mr. Scales suggested. 

" Oh ! I'm nothing ! " she burst out. 

The exclamation was perfectly sincere. Mr. Scales's dis- 



ESCAPADE. 123 

closures concerning himself, while they excited her, dis- 
couraged her. 

" You're the finest girl I've ever met, anyhow," said 
Mr. Scales with gallant emphasis, and he dug his stick into 
the soft ground. 

She blushed and made no answer. 

They walked on in silence, each wondering apprehensively 
what might happen next. 

Suddenly Mr. Scales stopped at a dilapidated low brick 
wall, built in a circle, close to the side of the road. 

" I expect that's an old pit-shaft," said he. 

" Yes, I expect it is." 

He picked up a rather large stone and approached the 
wall. 

" Be careful ! " she enjoined him. 

" Oh ! It's all right," he said lightly. " Let's listen. 
Come near and listen." 

She reluctantly obeyed, and he threw the stone over the 
dirty ruined wall, the top of which was about level with his 
hat. For two or three seconds there was no sound. Then a 
faint reverberation echoed from the depths of the shaft. And 
on Sophia's brain arose dreadful images of the ghosts of 
miners wandering for ever in subterranean passages, far, far 
beneath. The noise of the falling stone had awakened for 
her the secret terrors of the earth. She could scarcely even 
look at the wall without a spasm of fear. 

" How strange," said Mr. Scales, a little awe in his voice, 
too, " that that should be left there like that ! I suppose 
it's very deep." 

" Some of them are," she trembled. 

" I must just have a look," he said, and put his hands on 
the top of the wall. 

" Come away ! " she cried. 

" Oh ! It's all right ! " he said again, soothingly. " The 
wall's as firm as a rock." And he took a slight spring and 
looked over. 

She shrieked loudly. She saw him at the distant bottom 
of the shaft, mangled, drowning. The ground seemed to 
quake under her feet. A horrible -sickness seized her. And 
she shrieked again. Never had she guessed that existence 
could be such a pain. 

He slid down from the wall and turned to her. " No 
bottom to be seen ! " he said. Then, observing her trans- 
formed face, he came close to her, with a superior masculine 
smile. " Silly little thing ! " he said coaxingly, endearingly, 
putting forth all his power to charm. 



I2 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

He perceived at once that he had miscalculated the effects 
of his action. Her alarm changed swiftly to angry offence. 
She drew back with a haughty gesture, as if he had intended 
actually to touch her. Bid he suppose, because she chanced 
to be walking with him, that he had the right to address her 
familiarly, to tease her, to call her " silly little thing " and to 
put his face against hers ? She resented his freedom with 
quick and passionate indignation. 

She showed him her proud back and nodding head and 
wrathful skirts ; and hurried off without a word, almost 
running. As for him, he was so startled by unexpected 
phenomena that he did nothing for a moment merely stood 
looking and feeling foolish. 

Then she heard him in pursuit. She was too proud to stop 
or even to reduce her speed. 

" I didn't mean to " he muttered behind her. 

No recognition from her. 

" I suppose I ought to apologize," he said. 

" I should just think you ought," she answered, furious. 

" Well, I do ! " said he. " Do stop a minute." 

" I'll thank you not to follow me, Mr. Scales." She paused 
and scorched him with her displeasure. Then she went for- 
ward. And her heart was in torture because it could not per- 
suade her to remain with him, and smile and forgive, and win 
his smile. 

" I shall write to you," he shouted down the slope. 

She kept on, the ridiculous child. But the agony she had 
suffered as he clung to the frail wall was not ridiculous, nor 
her dark vision of the mine, nor her tremendous indignation 
when, after disobeying her, he forgot that she was a queen. 
To her the scene was sublimely tragic. Soon she had re- 
crossed the bridge, but not the same she ! So this was the 
end of the incredible adventure ! 

When she reached the turnpike she thought of her mother 
and of Constance. She had completely forgotten them ; for 
a space they had utterly ceased to exist for her. 



rv. 

" You've been out, Sophia ? " said Mrs. Baines in the par- 
lour, questioningly. Sophia had taken off her hat and mantle 
hurriedly in the cutting-out room, for she was in danger of 
being late for tea ; but her hair and face showed traces of the 
March breeze. Mrs. Baines, whose stoutness seemed to in- 



ESCAPADE. 125 

crease, sat in the rocking-chair with a number of The Sunday 
at Home in her hand. Tea was set. 

" Yes, mother. I called to see Miss Chetwynd." 

" I wish you'd tell me when you are going out." 

" I looked all over for you before I started." 

" No, you didn't, for I haven't stirred from this room since 
four o'clock. . . . You should not say things like that," Mrs. 
Baines added in a gentler tone. 

Mrs. Baines had suffered much that day. She knew that 
she was in an irritable, nervous state, and therefore she said 
to herself, in her quality of wise woman, " I must watch 
myself. I mustn't let myself go." And she thought how 
reasonable she was. She did not guess that all^ her gestures 
betrayed her ; nor did it occur to her that few things are more 
galling than the spectacle of a person, actuated by lofty mo- 
tives, obviously trying to be kind and patient under what he 
considers to be extreme provocation. 

Maggie blundered up the kitchen stairs with the teapot and 
hot toast ; and so Sophia had an excuse for silence. Sophia 
too had suffered much, suffered excruciatingly ; she carried 
at that moment a whole tragedy in her young soul, unaccus- 
tomed to such burdens. Her attitude towards her mother 
was half fearful and half defiant ; it might be summed up in 
the phrase which she had repeated again and again under 
her breath on the way home, " Well, mother can't kill 
me ! " 

Mrs. Baines put down the blue-covered magazine and 
twisted her rocking-chair towards the table. 

' You can pour out the tea," said Mrs. Baines. 

' Where's Constance ? " 

' She's not very well. She's lying down." 

' Anything the matter with her ? " 

' No." 

This was inaccurate. Nearly everything was the matter 
with Constance, who had never been less Constance than 
during that afternoon. But Mrs. Baines had no intention 
of discussing Constance's love-affairs with Sophia. The less 
said to Sophia about love, the better ! Sophia was excitable 
enough already ! 

They sat opposite to each other, on either side of the fire 
the monumental matron whose black bodice heavily over- 
hung the table, whose large rounded face was creased and 
wrinkled by what seemed countless years of joy and disillu- 
sion ; and the young, slim girl, so fresh, so virginal, so igno- 
rant, with all the pathos of an unsuspecting victim about to 
be sacrificed to the minotaur of Time ! They both ate hot 



126 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

toast, with careless haste, in silence, preoccupied, worried, 
and outwardly nonchalant. 

" And what has Miss Chetwynd got to say ? " Mrs. Baines 
inquired. 

" She wasn't in." 

Here was a blow for Mrs. Baines, whose suspicions about 
Sophia, driven off by her certainties regarding Constance, 
suddenly sprang forward in her mind, and prowled to and fro 
like a band of tigers. 

Still, Mrs. Baines was determined to be calm and careful. 
" Oh ! What time did you caU ? " 

" I don't know. About half-past four." Sophia finished 
her tea quipkly, and rose. " Shall I tell Mr. Povey he can 
come ? " 

(Mr. Povey had his tea after the ladies of the house.) 

" Yes, if you will stay in the shop till I come. Light me the 
gas before you go." 

Sophia took the wax taper from a vase on the mantelpiece, 
stuck it in the fire and lit the gas, which exploded in its crystal 
cloister with a mild report. 

" What's all that clay on your boots, child ? " asked Mrs. 
Baines. 

" Clay ? " repeated Sophia, staring foolishly at her boots. 

" Yes," said Mrs. Baines. " It looks like marl. Where on 
earth have you been ? " 

She interrogated her daughter with an upward gaze, frigid 
and unconsciously hostile, through her gold-rimmed glasses. 

" I must have picked it up on the roads," said Sophia, and 
hastened to the door. 

" Sophia ! " 

" Yes, mother." 

" Shut the door." 

Sophia unwillingly shut the door which she had half opened. 

" Come here." 

Sophia obeyed, with falling lip. 

" You are deceiving me, Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with 
fierce solemnity. " Where have you been this afternoon ? " 

Sophia's foot was restless on the carpet behind the table. 
" I haven't been anywhere," she murmured glumly. 

" Have you seen young Scales ? " 

" Yes," said Sophia with grimness, glancing audaciously 
for an instant at her mother. (" She can't kill me : She 
can't kill me," her heart muttered. And she had youth and 
beauty in her favour, while her mother was only a fat middle- 
agfed woman. " She can't kill me," said her heart, with the 
trembling, cruel insolence of the mirror-flattered child.) 



ESCAPADE. 127 

" How came you to meet him ? " 

No answer. 

" Sophia, you heard what I said ! " 

Still no answer. Sophia looked down at the table. (" She 
can't kill me.") 

" If you are going to be sullen, I shall have to suppose the 
worst," said Mrs. Baines. 

Sophia kept her silence. 

" Of course," Mrs. Baines resumed, " if you choose to be 
wicked, neither your mother nor any one else can stop you. 
There are certain things I can do, and these I shall do. . . . 
Let me warn you that young Scales is a thoroughly bad lot. 
I know all about him. He has been living a wild life abroad, 
and if it hadn't been that his uncle is a partner in Birkin- 
shaws, they would never have taken him on again." A 
pause. " I hope that one day you will be a happy wife, but 
you are much too young yet to be meeting young men, and 
nothing would ever induce me tft let you have anything to do 
with this Scales. I won't have it. In future you are not to 
go out alone. You understand me ? " 

Sophia kept silence. 

" I hope you will be in a better frame of mind to-morrow. 
I can only hope so. But if you aren't, I shall take very severe 
. measures. You think you can defy me. But you never were 
more mistaken in your life. I don't want to see any more of 
you now. Go and tell Mr. Povey ; and call Maggie for the 
fresh tea. You make me almost glad that your father died 
even as he did. He has, at any rate, been spared this." 

Those words " died even as he did " achieved the intimida- 
tion of Sophia. They seemed to indicate that Mrs. Baines, 
though she had magnanimously never mentioned the subject 
to Sophia, knew exactly how the old man had died. Sophia 
escaped from the room in fear, cowed. Nevertheless, her 
thought was, " She hasn't killed me. I made up my mind I 
wouldn't talk, and I didn't." 

In the evening, as she sat in the shop primly and sternly 
sewing at hats while her mother wept in secret on the first 
floor, and Constance remained hidden on the second Sophia 
lived over again the scene at the old shaft ; but she lived it 
differently, admitting that she had been wrong, guessing by 
instinct that she had shown a foolish mistrust of love. As 
she sat in the shop, she adopted just the right attitude and 
said just the right things. Instead of being a silly baby she 
was an accomplished and dazzling woman, then. When cus- 
tomers came in, and the young lady assistants unobtrusively 
turned higher the central gas, according to the regime of the 



128 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

shop, it was really extraordinary that they could not read in 
the heart of the beautiful Miss Baines the words which blazed 
there : " You're the finest girl I ever met," and " / shall write to 
you." The young lady assistants had their notions as to both 
Constance and Sophia, but the truth, at least as regarded 
Sophia, was beyond the flight of their imaginations. When 
eight o'clock struck and she gave the formal order for dust- 
sheets, the shop being empty, they never supposed that she 
was dreaming about posts and plotting how to get hold of the 
morning's letters before Mr. Povey. 



CHAPTER VII. 

A DEFEAT. 
I. 

IT was during the month of June that Aunt Harriet came over 
from Axe to spend a few days with her little sister, Mrs. 
Baines. The railway between Axe and the Five Towns had 
not yet been opened ; but even if it had been opened Aunt 
Harriet would probably not have used it. She had always 
travelled from Axe to Bursley in the same vehicle, a small 
waggonette which she hired from Bratt's livery stables at 
Axe, driven by a coachman who thoroughly understood the 
importance, and the peculiarities, of Aunt Harriet. 

Mrs. Baines had increased in stoutness, so that now Aunt 
Harriet had very little advantage over her, physically. But 
the moral ascendency of the elder still persisted. The two 
vast widows shared Mrs. Baines's bedroom, spending much of 
their time there in long, hushed conversations interviews 
from which Mrs. Baines emerged with the air of one who has 
received enlightenment and Aunt Harriet with the air of one 
who has rendered it. The pair went about together, in the 
shop, the showroom, the parlour, the kitchen, and also into 
the town, addressing each other as " Sister," " Sister." 
Everywhere it was " sister," " sister," " my sister," " your 
dear mother," " your Aunt Harriet." They referred to each 
other as oracular sources of wisdom and good taste. Respect- 
ability stalked abroad when they were afoot. The whole 
Square wriggled uneasily as though God's eye were peculiarly 
upon it. The meals in the parlour became solemn collations, 
at which shone the best silver and the finest diaper, but from 
which gaiety and naturalness seemed to be banished. (I say 
" seemed " because it cannot be doubted that Aunt Harriet 
was natural, and there were moments when she possibly con- 
sidered herself to be practising gaiety a gaiety more deso- 

5 



130 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

lating than her severity.) The younger generation was ex- 
tinguished, pressed flat and lifeless under the ponderosity of 
the widows. 

Mr. Povey was not the man to be easily flattened by pon- 
derosity of any kind, and his suppression was a striking proof 
of the prowess of the widows ; who, indeed, went over Mr. 
Povey like traction-engines, with the sublime unconsciousness 
of traction-engines, leaving an inanimate object in the road 
behind them, and scarce aware even of the jolt. Mr. Povey 
hated Aunt Harriet, but, lying crushed there in the road, how 
could he rebel ? He felt all the time that Aunt Harriet was 
adding him up, and reporting the result at frequent intervals 
to Mrs. Baines in the bedroom. He felt that she knew every- 
thing about him even to those tears which had been in his 
eyes. He felt that he could hope to do nothing right for 
Aunt Harriet, that absolute perfection in the performance of 
duty would make no more impression on her than a caress on 
the fly-wheel of a traction-engine. Constance, the dear Con- 
stance, was also looked at askance. There was nothing in 
Aunt Harriet's demeanour to her that you could take hold of, 
but there was emphatically something that you could not 
take hold of a hint, an inkling, that insinuated to Constance, 
" Have a care, lest perad venture you become the second 
cousin of the scarlet woman." 

Sophia was petted. Sophia was liable to be playfully 
tapped by Aunt Harriet's thimble when Aunt Harriet was 
hemming dusters (for the elderly lady could lift a duster to 
her own dignity). Sophia was called on two separate occa- 
sions, " My little butterfly." And Sophia was entrusted with 
the trimming of Aunt Harriet's new summer bonnet. Aunt 
Harriet deemed that Sophia was looking pale. As the days 
passed, Sophia's pallor was emphasized by Aunt Harriet until 
it developed into an article of faith, to which you were com- 
pelled to subscribe on pain of excommunication. Then 
dawned the day when Aunt Harriet said, staring at Sophia as 
an affectionate aunt may : " That child would do with a 
change." And then there dawned another day when Aunt 
Harriet, staring at Sophia compassionately, as a devoted 
aunt may, said : " It's a pity that child can't have a change." 
And Mrs. Baines also stared and said : " It is." 

And on another day Aunt Harriet said : " I've been won- 
dering whether my little Sophia would care to come and keep 
her old aunt company a while." 

There were few things for which Sophia would have cared 
less. The girl swore to herself angrily that she would not go, 
that no allurement would induce her to go. But she was in a 



A DEFEAT. 131 

net ; she was in the meshes of family correctness. Do what 
she would, she could not invent a reason for not going. Cer- 
tainly she could not tell her aunt that she merely did not want 
to go. She was capable of enormities, but not of that. And 
then began Aunt Harriet's intricate, preparations for going. 
Aunt Harriet never did anything simply. And she could not 
be hurried. Seventy-two hours before leaving she had to 
commence upon her trunk ; but first the trunk had to be 
wiped by Maggie with a damp cloth under the eye and direc- 
tion of Aunt Harriet. And the liveryman at Axe had to be 
written to, and the servants at Axe written to, and the 
weather prospects weighed and considered. And somehow, 
by the time these matters were accomplished, it was tacitly 
understood that Sophia should accompany her kind aunt into 
the bracing moorland air of Axe. No smoke at Axe ! No 
stuffiness at Axe ! The spacious existence of a wealthy 
widow in a residential town with a low death-rate and famous 
scenery ! " Have you packed your box, Sophia ? " No, she 
had not. " Well, I will come and help you." 

Impossible to bear up against the momentum of a massive 
body like Aunt Harriet's ! It was irresistible. 

The day of departure came, throwing the entire household 
into a commotion. Dinner was put a quarter of an hour 
earlier than usual so that Aunt Harriet might achieve Axe at 
her accustomed hour of tea. After dinner Maggie was the 
recipient of three amazing muslin aprons, given with a regal 
gesture. And the trunk and the box were brought down, 
and there was a slight odour of black kid gloves in the par- 
lour. The waggonette was due and the waggonette appeared 
(" I can always rely upon Bladen ! " said Aunt Harriet), and 
the door was opened, and Bladen, stiff on his legs, descended 
from the box and touched his hat to Aunt Harriet as she 
filled up the doorway. 

" Have you baited, Bladen ? " asked she. 

" Yes'm," said he, assuringly. 

Bladen and Mr. Povey carried out the trunk and the box, 
and Constance charged herself with parcels which sho 
bestowed in the corners of the vehicle according to her aunt'a 
prescription ; it was like stowing the cargo of a vessel. 

" Now, Sophia, my chuck ! " Mrs. Baines called up the 
stairs. And Sophia came slowly downstairs. Mrs. Baines 
offered her mouth. Sophia glanced at her. 

" You needn't think I don't see why you're sending me 
away ! " exclaimed Sophia in a hard, furious voice, with glis- 
tening eyes. " I'm not so blind as all that ! " She kissed 
her mother nothing but a contemptuous peck. Then, as 



132 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

she turned away she added : " But you let Constance do just 
as she likes ! " 

This was her sole bitter comment on the episode, but into 
it she put all the profound bitterness accumulated during 
many mutinous nights. , 

Mrs. Baines concealed a sigh. The explosion certainly dis- 
turbed her. She had hoped that the smooth surface of 
things would not be raffled. 

Sophia bounced out. And the assembly, including several 
urchins, watched with held breath while Aunt Harriet, after 
having bid majestic good-byes, got on to the step and intro- 
duced herself through the doorway of the waggonette into 
the interior of the vehicle ; it was an operation like threading 
a needle with cotton too thick. Once within, her hoops dis- 
tended in sudden release, filling the waggonette. Sophia 
followed, agilely. 

As, with due formalities, the equipage drove off, Mrs. Baines 
gave another sigh, one of relief. The sisters had won. She 
could now await the imminent next advent of Mr. Gerald 
Scales with tranquillity. 



II. 

Those singular words of Sophia's, " But you let Constance 
do just as she likes," had disturbed Mrs. Baines more than was 
at first apparent. They worried her like a late fly in autumn. 
For she had said nothing to any one about Constance's case, 
Mrs. Maddack of course excepted. She had instinctively felt 
that she could not show the slightest leniency towards the 
romantic impulses of her elder daughter without seeming un- 
just to the younger, and she had acted accordingly. On the 
memorable morn of Mr. Povey's acute jealousy, she had, 
temporarily at any rate, slaked the fire, banked it down, and 
hidden it ; and since then no word had passed as to the state 
of Constance's heart. In the great peril to be feared from Mr. 
Scales, Constance's heart had been put aside as a thing that 
could wait ; so one puts aside the mending of linen when 
earthquake shocks are about. Mrs. Baines was sure that 
Constance had not chattered to Sophia concerning Mr. Povey. 
Constance, who understood her mother, had too much com- 
monsense and too nice a sense of propriety to do that and 
yet here was Sophia exclaiming, " But you let Constance do 
just as she likes." Were the relations between Constance 
and Mr. Povey, then, common property ? Did the young 
lady assistants discuss them ? 



A DEFEAT. 133 

As a fact, the young lady assistants did discuss them ; not 
in the shop for either one of the principal parties, or Mrs. 
Baines herself, was always in the shop, but elsewhere. They 
discussed little else, when they were free ; how she had looked 
at him to-day, and how he had blushed, and so forth inter- 
minably. Yet Mrs. Baines really thought that she alone 
knew. Such is the power of the ineradicable delusion that 
one's own affairs, and especially one's own children, are 
mysteriously different from those of others. 

After Sophia's departure Mrs. Baines surveyed her daughter 
and her manager at supper-time with a curious and a diffi- 
dent eye. They worked, talked, and ate just as though 
Mrs. Baines had never caught them weeping together in 
the cutting-out room. They had the most matter-of-fact air. 
They might never have heard whispered the name of love. 
And there could be no deceit beneath that decorum ; for 
Constance would not deceive. Still, Mrs. Baines's con- 
science was unruly. Order reigned, but nevertheless she 
knew that she ought to do something, find out something, 
decide something ; she ought, if she did her duty, to take 
Constance aside and say : " Now, Constance, my mind is 
freer now. Tell me frankly what has been going on between 
you and Mr. Povey. I have never understood the meaning 
of that scene in the cutting-out room. Tell me." She 
ought to have talked in this strain. But she could not. That 
energetic woman had not sufficient energy left. She wanted 
rest, rest even though it were a coward's rest, an ostrich's 
tranquillity after the turmoil of apprehensions caused by 
Sophia. Her soul cried out for peace. She was not, however, 
to have peace. 

On the very first Sunday after Sophia's departure, Mr. 
Povey did not go to chapel in the morning, and he offered no 
reason for his unusual conduct. He ate his breakfast with 
appetite, but there was something peculiar in his glance that 
made Mrs. Baines a little uneasy ; this something she could 
not seize upon and define. When she and Constance returned 
from chapel Mr. Povey was playing " Rock of Ages " on the 
harmonium again unusual ! The serious part of the dinner 
comprised roast beef and Yorkshire pudding the pudding 
being served as a sweet course before the meat. Mrs. Baines 
ate freely of these things, for she loved them, and she was 
always hungry after a sermon. She also did well with the 
Cheshire cheese. Her intention was to sleep in the drawing- 
room after the repast. On Sunday afternoons she invariably 
tried to sleep in the drawing-room, and she did not often fail. 
As a rule the girls accompanied her thither from the table, 



134 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

and either " settled down " likewise or crept out of the room 
when they perceived the gradual sinking of the majestic form 
into the deep hollows of the easy-chair. Mrs. Baines was an- 
ticipating with pleasure her somnolent Sunday afternoon. 

Constance said grace after meat, and the formula on this 
particular occasion ran thus 

" Thank God for our good dinner, Amen. Mother, I must 
just run upstairs to my room." (" My room " Sophia 
being far away.) 

And off she ran, strangely girlish. 

" Well, child, you needn't be in such a hurry," said Mrs. 
Baines, ringing the bell and rising. 

She hoped that Constance would remember the conditions 
precedent to sleep. 

" I should like to have a word with you, if it's all the same 
to you, Mrs. Baines," said Mr. Povey suddenly, with obvious 
nervousness. And his tone struck a rude unexpected blow at 
Mrs. Baines's peace of mind. It was a portentous tone. 

" What about ? " asked she, with an inflection subtly to 
remind Mr. Povey what day it was. 

" About Constance," said the astonishing man. 

" Constance ! " exclaimed Mrs. Baines with a histrionic 
air of bewilderment. 

Maggie entered the room, solely in response to the bell, yet 
a thought jumped up in Mrs. Baines's brain, " How prying 
servants are, to be sure ! " For quite five seconds she had a 
grievance against Maggie. She was compelled to sit down 
again and wait while Maggie cleared the table. Mr. Povey 
put both his hands in his pockets, got up, went to the window, 
whistled, and generally behaved in a manner which foretold 
the worst. 

At last Maggie vanished, shutting the door. 

" What is it, Mr. Povey ? " 

" Oh ! " said Mr. Povey, facing her with absurd nervous 
brusqueness, as though pretending : " Ah, yes ! We have 
something to say I was forgetting ! " Then he began : 
" It's about Constance and me." 

Yes, they had evidently plotted this interview. Constance 
had evidently taken herself off on purpose to leave Mr. Povey 
unhampered. They were in league. The inevitable had 
come. No sleep ! No repose ! Nothing but worry once 
more ! 

" I'm not at ?11 satisfied with the present situation," said 
Mr. Povey, in a tone that corresponded to his words. 

" I don't know what you mean, Mr. Povey," said Mrs. 
Baines stiffly. This was a simple lie. 



A DEFEAT. 135 

" Well, really, Mrs. Baines ! " Mr. Povey protested, " I 
suppose you won't deny that you know there is something 
between me and Constance ? I suppose you won't deny 
that ? " 

" What is there between you and Constance ? I can 
assure you I " 

" That depends on you," Mr. Povey interrupted her. When 
he was nervous his manners deteriorated into a behaviour 
that resembled rudeness. " That depends on you ! " he re- 
peated grimly. 

But f> 

" Are we to be engaged or are we not ? " pursued Mr. 
Povey, as though Mrs. Baines had been guilty of some grave 
lapse and he was determined not to spare her. " That's 
what I think ought to be settled, one way or the other. I 
wish to be perfectly open and aboveboard in the future, 
as I have been in the past." 

" But you have said nothing to me at all I " Mrs. Baines 
remonstrated, lifting her eyebrows. The way in which the 
man had sprung this matter upon her was truly too audacious. 

Mr. Povey approached her as she sat at the table, shaking 
her ringlets and looking at her hands. 

" You know there's something between us ! " he in- 
sisted. 

" How should I know there is something between you ? 
Constance has never said a word to me. And have you ? " 

" Well," said he. " We've hidden nothing." 

" What is there between you and Constance ? If I may 
ask! " 

" That depends on you," said he again. 

" Have you asked her to be your wife ? " 

" No. I haven't exactly asked her to be my wife." He 
hesitated. " You see " 

Mrs. Baines collected her forces. " Have you kissed 
her ? " This in a cold voice. 

Mr. Povey now blushed. " I haven't exactly kissed her," 
he stammered, apparently shocked by the inquisition. " No, 
I should not say that I had kissed her." 

It might have been that before committing himself he felt 
a desire for Mrs. Baines's definition, of a kiss. 

" You are very extraordinary," she said loftily. It was 
no less than the .truth. 

" All I want to know is have you got anything against 
me ? " he demanded roughly. " Because if so " 

" Anything against you, Mr. Povey ? Why should I have 
anything against you ? " 



I 3 6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Then why can't we be engaged ? " 

She considered that he was bullying her. " That's an- 
other question," said she. 

" Why can't we be engaged ? Ain't I good enough ? " 

The fact was that he was not regarded as good enough. 
Mrs. Maddack had certainly deemed that he was not good 
enough. He was a solid mass of excellent qualities ; but he 
lacked brilliance, importance, dignity. He could not impose 
himself. Such had been the verdict. 

And now, while Mrs. Baines was secretly reproaching Mr. 
Povey for his inability to impose himself, he was most 
patently imposing himself on her and the phenomenon 
escaped her ! She felt that he was bullying her, but some- 
how she could not perceive his power. Yet the man who 
could bully Mrs. Baines was surely no common soul ! 

" You know my very high opinion of you," she said. 

Mr. Povey pursued in a mollified tone. " Assuming that 
Constance is willing to be engaged, do I understand you con- 
sent ? " 

" But C9nstance is too young." 

" Constance is twenty. She is more than twenty." 

" In any case you won't expect me to give you an answer 
now." 

" Why not ? You know my position." 

She did. From a practical point of view the match would 
be ideal : no fault could be found with it on that side. But 
Mrs. Baines could not extinguish the idea that it would be a 
" come-down " for her daughter. Who, after all, was Mr. 
Povey ? Mr. Povey was nobody. 

" I must think things over," she said firmly, putting her 
lips together. " I can't reply like this. It is a serious 
matter." 

" When can I have your answer ? To-morrow ? " 

" No really " 

" In a week, then ? " 

" I cannot bind myself to a date," said Mrs. Barnes, 
haughtily. She felt that she was gaining ground. 

" Because I can't stay on here indefinitely as things are," 
Mr. Povey burst out, and there was a touch of hysteria in 
his tone. 

" Now, Mr. Povey, please do be reasonable." 

" That's all very well," he went on. " That's all very well. 
But what I say is that employers have no right to have male 
assistants in their houses unless they are prepared to let their 
daughters marry ! That's what I say ! No right ! " 

Mrs. Baines did not know what to answer. 



A DEFEAT. 137 

The aspirant wound up : "I must leave if that's the case." 

"If what's the case? " she asked herself. "What has 
come over him ? " And aloud : " You know you would place 
me in a very awkward position by leaving, and I hope you 
don't want to mix up two quite different things. I hope 
you aren't trying to threaten me." 

" Threaten you ! " he cried. " Do you suppose I should 
leave here for fun ? If I leave it will be because I can't stand 
it. That's all. I can't stand it. I want Constance, and if 
I can't have her, then I can't stand it. What do you think 
I'm made of ? " 

"I'm sure " she began. 

" That's all very well 1 " he almost shouted. 

" But please let me speak." she said quietly. 

" All I say is I can't stand it. That's all. . . . Employers 
have no right. . . . We have our feelings like other men." 

He was deeply moved. He might have appeared somewhat 
grotesque to the strictly impartial observer of human nature. 
Nevertheless he was deeply and genuinely moved, and pos- 
sibly human nature could have shown nothing more human 
than Mr. Povey at the moment when, unable any longer to 
restrain the paroxysm which had so surprisingly overtaken 
him, he fled from the parlour, passionately, to the retreat of 
his bedroom. 

" That's the worst of those quiet calm ones," said Mrs. 
Baines to herself. " You never know if they won't give way. 
And when they do, it's awful awful. . . . What did I do, 
what did I say, to bring it on ? Nothing ! Nothing ! " 

And where was her afternoon sleep ? What was going to 
happen to her daughter ? What could she say to Constance ? 
How next could she meet Mr. Povey ? Ah ! It needed a 
brave, indomitable woman not to cry out brokenly : " I've 
suffered too much. Do anything you like ; only let me die 
in peace ! " And so saying, to let everything indifferently 
slide 1 



III. 

Neither Mr. Povey nor Constance introduced the delicate 
subject to her again, and she was determined not to be the 
first to speak of it. She considered that Mr. Povey had taken 
advantage of his position, and that he had also been infantile 
and impolite. And somehow she privately blamed Constance 
for his behaviour. So the matter hung, as it were, suspended 
in the ether between the opposing forces of pride and passion. 



138 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Shortly afterwards events occurred compared to which the 
vicissitudes of Mr. Povey's heart were of no more account 
than a shower of rain in April. And fate gave no warning of 
them ; it rather indicated a complete absence of events. 
When the customary advice circular arrived from Birkin- 
shaws, the name of " our Mr. Gerald Scales " was replaced 
on it by another and an unfamiliar name. Mrs. Baines, 
seeing the circular by accident, experienced a sense of relief, 
mingled with the professional disappointment of a diplomatist 
who has elaborately provided for contingencies which have 
failed to happen. She had sent Sophia away for nothing ; 
and no doubt her maternal affection had exaggerated a mole- 
hill into a mountain. Really, when she reflected on the past, 
she could not recall a single fact that would justify her theory 
of an attachment secretly budding between Sophia and the 
young man Scales ! Not a single little fact 1 All she could 
bring forward was that Sophia had twice encountered Scales 
in the street. 

She felt a curious interest in the fate of Scales, for whom 
in her own mind she had long prophesied evil, and when 
Birkinshaws' representative came she took care to be in the 
shop ; her intention was to converse with him, and ascertain 
as much as was ascertainable, after Mr. Povey had transacted 
business. For this purpose, at a suitable moment, she tra- 
versed the shop to Mr. Povey's side, and in so doing she had 
a fleeting view of King Street, and in King Street of a familiar 
vehicle. She stopped, and seemed to catch the distant sound 
of knocking. Abandoning the traveller, she hurried towards 
the parlour, in the passage she assuredly did hear knocking, 
angry and impatient knocking, the knocking of someone who 
thinks he has knocked too long. 

" Of course Maggie is at the top of the house ! " she mut- 
tered sarcastically. 

She unchained, unbolted, and unlocked the side-door. 

" At last ! " It was Aunt Harriet's voice, exacerbated. 
" What ! You, sister ? You're soon up. What a bless- 
ing ! " 

The two majestic and imposing creatures met on the mat, 
craning forward so that their lips might meet above their 
terrific bosoms. 

' What's the matter ? " Mrs. Baines asked, fearfully. 

' Well, I do declare ! " said Mrs. Maddack. " And I've 
driven specially over to ask you I " 

' Where's Sophia ? " demanded Mrs. Baines. 

' You don't mean to say she's not come, sister ? " Mrs. 
Maddack sank down on to the sofa. 



A DEFEAT. 139 

1 Come ? " Mrs. Baines repeated. " Of course she's not 
come ! What do you mean, sister ? " 

" The very moment she got Constance's letter yesterday, 
saying you were ill in bed and she'd better come over to help 
in the shop, she started. I got Bratt's dog-cart for her." 

Mrs. Baines in her turn also sank down on to the sofa. 

" I've not been ill," she said. " And Constance hasn't 
written for a week ! Only yesterday I was telling her " 

" Sister it can't be ! Sophia had letters from Constance 
every morning. At least she said they were from Constance. 
I told her to be sure and write me how you were last night, 
and she promised faithfully she would. And it was because 
I got nothing by this morning's post that I decided to come 
over myself, to see if it was anything serious." 

' Serious it is ! " murmured Mrs. Baines. 

" What " / 

" Sophia's run off. That's the plain English of it ! " said 
Mrs. Baines with frigid calm. 

' Nay ! That I'll never believe. I've looked after Sophia 
night and day as if she was my own, and " 

" If she hasn't run off, where is she ? " 

Mrs. Maddack opened the door with a tragic gesture. 

" Bladen," she called in a loud voice to the driver of the 
waggonette, who was standing on the pavement. 

" Yes'm." 

"- It was Pember drove Miss Sophia yesterday, wasn't it ? " 

Yes'm." 

She hesitated. A clumsy question might enlighten a mem- 
ber of the class which ought never to be enlightened about 
one's private affairs. 

" He didn't come all the way here ? " 

" No'm. He happened to say last night when he got back 
as Miss Sophia had told him to set her down at Knype Sta- 
tion." 

" I thought so ! " said Mrs. Maddack, courageously. 

" Yes'm." 

" Sister ! " she moaned, after carefully shutting the door. 

They clung to each other. 

The horror of what had occurred did not instantly take 
full possession of them, because the power of credence, of 
imaginatively realizing a supreme event, whether of great 
grief or of great happiness, is ridiculously finite. But every 
minute the horror grew more clear, more intense, more 
tragically dominant over them. There were many things 
that they could not say to each other, from pride, from 
shame, from the inadequacy of words. Neither could utter 



1 40 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

the name of Gerald Scales. And Aunt Harriet could not 
stoop to defend herself from a possible charge of neglect ; 
nor could Mrs. Baines stoop to assure her sister that she was 
incapable of preferring such a charge. And the sheer, im- 
mense criminal folly of Sophia could not even be referred to : 
it was unspeakable. So the interview proceeded, lamely, 
clumsily, inconsequently, leading to naught. 

Sophia was gone. She was gone with Gerald Scales. 
That beautiful child, that incalculable, untamable, impos- 
sible creature, had committed the final folly ; without 
pretext or excuse, and with what elaborate deceit ! Yes, with- 
out excuse ! She had not been treated harshly ; she had 
had a degree of liberty which would have astounded and 
shocked her grandmothers ; she had been petted, humoured, 
spoilt. And her answer was to disgrace the family by an 
act as irrevocable as it was utterly vicious. If among her 
desires was the desire to humiliate those majesties, her 
mother and Aunt Harriet, she would have been content could 
she have seen them on the sofa there, humbled, shamed, 
mortally wounded ! Ah, the monstrous Chinese cruelty of 
youth ! 

What was to be done ? Tell dear Constance ? No, this 
was not, at the moment, an affair for the younger generation. 
It was too new and raw for the younger generation. More- 
over, capable, proud, and experienced as they were, they 
felt the need of a man's voice, and a man's hard, callous 
ideas. It was a case for Mr. Critchlow. Maggie was sent 
to fetch him, with a particular request that he should come 
to the side-door. He came expectant, with the pleasurable 
anticipation of disaster, and he was not disappointed. He 
passed with the sisters the happiest hour that had fallen to 
him for years. Quickly he arranged the alternatives for 
them. Would they tell the police, or would they take the 
risks of waiting ? They shied away, but with fierce brutality 
he brought them again and again to the immediate point of 
decision. . . . Well, they could not tell the police ! They 
simply could not. . . . Then they must face another danger. 
. . . He had no mercy for them. And while he was torturing 
them there arrived a telegram, despatched from Charing 
Cross, " I am all right, Sophia." That proved, at any rate, 
that the child was not heartless, not merely careless. 

Only yesterday, it seemed to Mrs. Baines, she had borne 
Sophia ; only yesterday she was a baby, a schoolgirl to be 
smacked. The years rolled up in a few hours. And now she 
was sending telegrams from a place called Charing Cross ! 
How unlike was the hand of the telegram to Sophia's hand ! 



A DEFEAT. 141 

How mysteriously curt and inhuman was that official hand, 
as Mrs. Baines stared at it through red, wet eyes ! 

Mr. Critchlow said some one should go to Manchester, to 
ascertain about Scales. He went himself, that afternoon, 
and returned with the news that an aunt of Scales had re- 
cently died, leaving him twelve thousand pounds, and that 
he had, after quarrelling with his uncle Boldero, abandoned 
Birkinshaws at an hour's notice and vanished with his in- 
heritance. 

" It's as plain as a pikestaff," said Mr. Critchlow. " I could 
ha' warned ye o' all this years ago, even since she killed her 
father ! " 

Mr. Critchlow left nothing unsaid. 

During the night Mrs. Baines lived through all Sophia's life, 
lived through it more intensely than ever Sophia had done. 

The next day people began to know. A whisper almost 
inaudible went across the Square, and into the town : and in 
the stillness every one heard it. " Sophia Baines run off 
with a commercial ! " 

In another fortnight a note came, also dated from London. 

" Dear Mother, I am married to Gerald Scales. Please 
don't worry about me. We are going abroad. Your affec- 
tionate Sophia. Love to Constance." No tear-stains on 
that pale blue sheet ! No sign of agitation ! 

And Mrs. Baines said : " My life is over." It was, though 
she was scarcely fifty. She felt old, old and beaten. She 
had fought and been vanquished. The everlasting purpose 
had been too much for her. Virtue had gone out of her the 
virtue to hold up her head and look the Square in the face. 
She, the wife of John Baines ! She, a Syme of Axe ! 

Old houses, in the course of their history, see sad sights, 
and never forget them ! And ever since, in the solemn 
physiognomy of the triple house of John Baines at the corner 
of St. Luke's Square and King Street, have remained the 
traces of the sight it saw on the morning of the afternoon 
when Mr. and Mrs. Povey returned from their honeymoon 
the sight of Mrs. Baines getting into the waggonette for Axe ; 
Mrs. Baines, encumbered with trunks and parcels, leaving the 
scene of her struggles and her defeat, whither she had once 
come as slim as a wand, to return stout and heavy, and heavy- 
hearted, to her childhood ; content to live with her grandiose 
sister until such time as she should be ready for burial ! The 
grimy and impassive old house perhaps heard her heart 
saying : " Only yesterday they were little girls, ever so tiny, 
and now " The driving-off of a waggonette can be a dread- 
ful thing- 



BOOK II. 
CONSTANCE. 



CHAPTER I. 

REVOLUTION. 
I. 

" WELL," said Mr. Povey, rising from the rocking-chair that 
in a previous age had been John Baines's, " I've got to make 
a start some time, so I may as well begin now I " 

And he went from the parlour into the shop. Constance's 
eye followed him as far as the door, where their glances met 
for an instant in the transient gaze which expresses the 
tenderness of people who feel more than they kiss. 

It was on the morning of this day that Mrs. Baines, relin- 
quishing the sovereignty of St. Luke's Square, had gone to 
live as a younger sister in the house of Harriet Maddack at 
Axe. Constance guessed little of the secret anguish of that 
departure. She only knew that it was just like her mother, 
having perfectly arranged the entire house for the arrival of 
the honeymoon couple from Buxton, to flit early away so as 
to spare the natural blushing diffidence of the said couple. 
It was like her mother's commonsense and her mother's sym- 
pathetic comprehension. Further, Constance did not pur- 
sue her mother's feelings, being far too busy with her own. 
She sat there full of new knowledge and new importance, 
brimming with experience and strange, unexpected aspira- 
tions, purposes, yes and cunnings ! And yet, though the 
very curves of her cheeks seemed to be mysteriously altering, 
the old Constance still lingered in that frame, an innocent 
soul hesitating to spread its wings and quit for ever the 
body which had been its home ; you could see the timid thing 
peeping wistfully out of the eyes of the married woman. 

Constance rang the bell for Maggi .1 to clear the table ; and 
as she did so she had the illusion taat she was not really a 
married woman and a house Distress, but only a kind of 
counterfeit. She did most fervently hope that all would go 



I 4 6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

right in the house at any rate until she had grown more 
accustomed to her situation. 

The hope was to be disappointed. Maggie's rather silly, 
obsequious smile concealed but for a moment the ineffable 
tragedy that had lain in wait for unarmed Constance. 

" If you please, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie, as she crushed 
cups together on the tin tray with her great, red hands, which 
always looked like something out of a butcher's shop ; then 
a pause, " Will you please accept of this ? " 

Now, before the wedding Maggie had already, with tears 
of affection, given Constant a pair of blue glass vases (in 
order to purchase which she had been obliged to ask for special 
permission to go out), and Constance wondered what was 
coming now from Maggie' . p cket. A smaL. piece of folded 
paper came from Maggie's pocket. Constanc- accepted of it, 
and read : "I begs to give one month's notice to leave. 
Signed Maggie. June 10, 1867." 

" Maggie ! " exclaimed the old Constance, terrified by this 
incredible occurrence, ere the married woman could strangle 
her. 

" I never give notice before, Mrs. ~?ovey," said Maggie, 
" so I don't know as I know how it ought for be done not 
rightly. But I hope as you'll a jeep f it, Mrs. Povey." 

" Oh ! of course," said Mr" . Povey, priml , just as if Maggie 
was not the central supporting pillar .* the house, just as if 
Maggie had not assisted at her birth, just as if the end of the 
world had not abruptly been announced, just as if St. Luke's 
Square were not inconceivable without Maggie. " But 
why " 

" Well, Mrs. Povey, I've been a-thinking it over in my 
kitchen, and I said to myself : ' If there's going to be one 
change there'd better be two,' I says. Not but what I 
wouldn't work my fingers to the bone for ye, Miss Con- 
stance." 

Here Maggie began to cry into the tray. 

Constance looked at her. Despite the special muslin of 
that day she had traces of the slatternliness of which Mrs. 
Baines had never been able to cure her. She was over forty, 
big, gawky. She had no figure, no charms of any kind. 
She was what was left of a woman after twenty-two years 
in the cave of a philanthropic family. And in her cave she 
had actually been thinking things over ! Constance de- 
tected for the first time, beneath the dehumanized drudge, 
the stirrings of a separate and perhaps capricious individu- 
ality. Maggie's engagements had never been real to her em- 
ployers. Within the house she had never been, in practice, 



REVOLUTION. 147 

anything but " Maggie " an organism. And now she was 
permitting herself ideas about changes ! 

" You'll soon be suited with another, Mrs. Povey," said 
Maggie. " There's many a many a " She burst into 
sobs. 

" But if you really want to leave, what are you crying for, 
Maggie ? " asked Mrs. Povey, at her wisest. " Have you 
told mother ? " 

" No, miss," Maggie whimpered, absently wiping her 
wrinkled cheeks with ineffec-^ual muslin. " I couldn't seem 
to fancy telling your mother. And as you're the mistress 
now, I thought as I'd save it for you when you come home. 
I hope you'll excuse me, Mrs. Povey." 

" Of course I'm very sorry. You've been a very good 
servant. And in these days " 

The child had acquired this turn of speech from her mother. 
It did not -ppear to occur to either of them that they were 
living in ,he sixti- . 

" Thank ye, miss." 

" And what are you thinking of doing, Maggie ? You 
know you won't get many places like this." 

" To tell ye the truth, Mrs. Povey, I'm going to get married 
my sen." 

" Indeed ! " murmured Constance, with the perfunctori- 
ness of habit in replying to these tidings. 

" Oh ! but I am, mum," Maggie insisted. " It's all settled. 
Mr. Hollins, mum." 

" Not Hollins, the fish-hawker ! " 

" Yes, mum. I seem to fancy him. You don't remember 
as him and me was engaged in '48. He was my first, like. 
I broke it off because he was in that Chartist lot, and I knew 
as Mr. Baines would never stand that. Now he's asked me 
again. He's been a widower this long time." 

"I'm sure I hope you'll be happy, Maggie. But what 
about his habits ? " 

" He won't have no habits with me, Mrs. Povey." 

A woman was definitely emerging from the drudge. 

When Maggie, having entirely ceased sobbing, had put the 
folded cloth in the table-drawer and departed with the tray, 
her mistress became frankly the girl again. No primness 
about her as she stood alone there in the parlour ; no pre- 
tence that Maggie's notice to leave was an everyday docu- 
ment, to be casually glanced at as one glances at an unpaid 
bill ! She would be compelled to find a new servant, making 
solemn inquiries into character, and to train the new servant, 
and to talk to her from heights from which she had never 



148 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

addressed Maggie. At that moment she had an illusion that 
there were no other available, suitable servants in the whole 
world. And the arranged marriage ? She felt that this 
time the thirteenth or fourteenth time the engagement 
was serious and would only end at the altar. The vision of 
Maggie and Hollins at the altar shocked her. Marriage was 
a series of phenomena, and a general state, very holy and 
wonderful too sacred, somehow, for such creatures as Maggie 
and Hollins. Her vague, instinctive revolt against such a 
usage of matrimony centred round the idea of a strong, eternal 
smell of fish. However, the projected outrage on a hallowed 
institution troubled her much less than the imminent prob- 
lem of domestic service. 

She ran into the shop or she would have run if she had 
not checked her girlishness betimes and on her lips, ready- 
to be whispered importantly into a husband's astounded ear, 
were the words, " Maggie has given notice ! Yes ! Truly ! " 
But Samuel Povey was engaged. He was leaning over the 
counter and staring at an outspread paper upon which a 
certain Mr. Yardley was making strokes with a thick pencil. 
Mr. Yardley, who had a long red beard, painted houses and 
rooms. She knew him only by sight. In her mind she 
always associated him with the sign over his premises in 
Trafalgar Road, " Yardley Bros., Authorised Clumbers. 
Painters. Decorators. Paper-hangers. Facia writers." For 
years, in childhood, she had passed that sign without know- 
ing what sort of thing " Bros. ' and " Facia " were, ind what 
was the mysterious similarity between a plumber and a 
version of the Bible. She could not interrupt her husband, 
he was wholly absorbed ; nor could she stay in the shop 
(which appeared just a little smaller than usual), for that 
would have meant an unsuccessful endeavour to front the 
young lady-assistants as though nothing in particular had 
happened to her. So she went sedately up the showroom 
stairs and thus to the bedroom floors of the house her 
house ! Mrs. Povey's house ! She even climbed to Con- 
stance's old bedroom ; her mother had stripped the bed 
that was all, except a slight diminution of this room, cor- 
responding to that of the shop ! Then to the drawing- 
room. In the recess outside the drawing-room door the 
black box of silver plate still lay. She had expected her 
mother to take it ; but no ! Assuredly her mother was one 
to dp things handsomely when she did them. In the 
drawing-room, not a tassel of an antimacassar touched ! Yes, 
the fire-screen, the luscious bunch of roses on an expanse of 
mustard, which Constance had worked for her mother years 



REVOLUTION. 149 

ago, was gone I That her mother should have clung to just 
that one souvenir, out of all the heavy opulence of the draw- 
ing-room, touched Constance intimately. She perceived that 
if she could not talk to her husband she must write to her 
mother. And she sat down at the oval table and wrote, 
" Darling mother, I am sure you will be very surprised to 
hear. . . . She means it. ... I think she is making a 
serious mistake. Ought I to put an advertisement in the 
Signal, or will it do if. ... Please write by return. We are 
back, and have enjoyed ourselves very much. Sam says he 
enjoys getting up late. ..." And so on to the last inch of 
the fourth scolloped page. 

She was obliged to revisit the shop for a stamp, stamps 
being kept in Mr. Povey's desk in the corner a high desk, 
at which you stood. Mr. Povey was now in earnest converse 
with Mr. Yardley at the door, and twilight, which began a 
full hour earlier in the shop than in the Square, had cast 
faint shadows in corners behind counters. 

" Will you just run out with this to the pillar, Miss Dadd ? " 

" With pleasure, Mrs. Povey." 

" Where are you going to ? " Mr. Povey interrupted his 
conversation to stop the flying girl. 

" She's just going to the post for me," Constance called 
out from the' region of the till. 

" Oh ! All right ! " 

A trifle ! A nothing ! Yet somehow, in the quiet cus- 
tomerless shop, the episode, with the scarce perceptible differ- 
ence in Samuel's tone at his second remark, was delicious 
to Constance. Somehow it was the real beginning of her 
wifehood. (There had been about nine other real begin- 
nings in the past fortnight.) 

Mr. Povey came in to supper, laden with ledgers and 
similar works which Constance had never even pretended to 
understand. It was a sign from him that the honeymoon 
was over. He was proprietor now, and his ardour for 
ledgers most justifiable. Still, there was the question of 
her servant. 

" Never ! " he exclaimed, when she told him all about the 
end of the world. A " never " which expressed extreme as- 
tonishment and the liveliest concern ! 

But Constance had anticipated that he would have been 
just a little more knocked down, bowled over, staggered, 
stunned, flabbergasted. In a swift gleam of insight she saw 
that she had been in danger of forgetting her rdlf of experi- 
enced, capable married woman. 

" I shall have to set about getting a fresh one," she said 



150 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

hastily, with an admirable assumption of light and easy 
casualness. 

Mr. Povey seemed to think that Rollins would suit Maggie 
pretty well. He made no remark to the betrothed when she 
answered the final bell of the night. 

He opened his ledgers, whistling. 

" I think I shall go up, dear," said Constance. " I've a 
lot of things to put away." 

" Do," said he. " Call out when you've done." 



II. 

" Sam ! " she cried from the top of the crooked stairs. 

No answer. The door at the foot was closed. 

" Sam ! " 

" Hello ? " Distantly, faintly. 

" I've done all I'm going to do to-night." 

And she ran back along the corridor, a white figure in the 
deep gloom, and hurried into bed, and drew the clothes up 
to her chin. 

In the life of a bride there are some dramatic moments. 
If she has married the industrious apprentice, one of those 
moments occurs when she first occupies the sacred bed- 
chamber of her ancestors, and the bed on which she was born. 
Her parents' room had always been to Constance, if not 
sacred, at least invested with a certain moral solemnity. 
She could not enter it as she would enter another room. 
The course of nature, with its succession of deaths, concep- 
tions, and births, slowly makes such a room august with a 
mysterious quality which interprets the grandeur of mere 
existence and imposes itself on all. Constance had the 
strangest sensations in that bed, whose heavy dignity of 
ornament symbolized a past age ; sensations of sacrilege 
and trespass, of being a naughty girl to whom punishment 
would accrue for this shocking freak. Not since she was 
quite tiny had she slept in that bed one night with her 
mother, before her father's seizure, when he had been away. 
What a limitless, unfathomable bed it was then I Now it 
was just a bed so she had to tell herself like any other bed. 
The tiny child that, safely touching its mother, had slept in 
the vast expanse, seemed to her now a pathetic little thing ; 
its image made her feel melancholy. And her mind dwelt 
on sad events : the death of her father, the flight of darling 
Sophia ; the immense grief, and the exile, of her mother. 



REVOLUTION. 151 

She esteemed that she knew what life was, and that it was 
grim. And she sighed. But the sigh was an affectation, 
meant partly to convince herself that she was grown-up, 
and partly to keep her in countenance in the intimidating 
bed. This melancholy was factitious, was less than transient 
foam on the deep sea of her joy. Death and sorrow and sin 
were dim shapes to her ; the ruthless egoism of happiness 
blew them away with a puff, and their wistful faces vanished. 
To see her there in the bed, framed in mahogany and tassels, 
lying on her side, with her young glowing cheeks, and 
honest but not artless gaze, and the rich curve of her hip 
lifting the counterpane, one would have said that she had 
never heard of aught but love. 

Mr. Povey entered, the bridegroom, quickly, firmly, carry- 
ing it off rather well, but still self-conscious. " After all," 
his shoulders were trying to say, " what's the difference be- 
tween this bedroom and the bedroom of a boarding-house ? 
Indeed, ought we not to feel more at home here ? Besides, 
confound it, we've been married a fortnight ! " 

" Doesn't it give you a funny feeling, sleeping in this 
room ? It does me," said Constance. Women, even experi- 
enced women, are so foolishly frank. They have no decency, 
no self-respect. 

" Really ? " replied Mr. Povey, with loftiness, as who 
should say : " What an extraordinary thing that a reasonable 
creature can have such fancies ! Now to me this room is 
exactly like any other room." And he added aloud, glancing 
away from the glass, where he was unfastening his necktie : 
"It's not a bad room at all." This, with the judicial air of 
an auctioneer. 

Not for an instant did he deceive Constance, who read his 
real sensations with accuracy. But his futile poses did not 
in the slightest degree lessen her respect for him. On the 
contrary, she admired him the more for them ; they were a 
sort of embroidery on the solid stuff of his character. At 
that period he could not do wrong for her. The basis of 
her regard for him was, she often thought, his honesty, his 
industry, his genuine kindliness of act, his grasp of the busi- 
ness, his perseverance, his passion for doing at once that 
which had to be done. She had the greatest admiration for 
his qualities, and he was in her eyes an indivisible whole ; 
she could not admire one part of him and frown upon another. 
Whatever he did was good because he did it. She knew that 
some people were apt to smile at certain phases of his in- 
dividuality ; she knew that far down in her mother's heart 
was a suspicion that she had married ever so little beneath 



152 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

her. But this knowledge did not disturb her. She had no 
doubt as to the correctness of her own estimate. 

Mr. Povey was an exceedingly methodical person, and he 
was also one of those persons who must always be "before- 
hand " with time. Thus at night he would arrange his 
raiment so that in the morning it might be reassumed in the 
minimum of minutes. He was not a man, for example, to 
leave the changing of studs from one shirt to another till the 
morrow. Had it been practicable, he would have brushed 
his hair the night before. Constance already loved to watch 
his meticulous preparations. She saw him now go into his 
old bedroom and return with a paper collar, which he put 
on the dressing-table next to a black necktie. His shop-suit 
was laid out on a chair. 

" Oh, Sam ! " she exclaimed impulsively, " you surely 
aren't going to begin wearing those horrid paper collars 
again ! During the honeymoon he had worn linen collars. 

Her tone was perfectly gentle, but the remark, neverthe- 
less, showed a lack of tact. It implied that all his life Mr. 
Povey had been enveloping his neck in something which was 
horrid. Like all persons with a tendency to fall into the 
ridiculous, Mr. Povey was exceedingly sensitive to personal 
criticisms. He flushed darkly. 

" I didn't know they were ' horrid,' " he snapped. He 
was hurt and angry. Anger surprised him unawares. 

Both of them suddenly saw that they were standing on 
the edge of a chasm, and drew back. They had imagined 
themselves to be wandering safely in a flowered meadow, 
and here was this bottomless chasm ! It was most dis- 
concerting. 

Mr. Povey 's hand hovered undecided over the collar. 
" However " he muttered. 

She could feel that he was trying with all his might to be 
gentle and pacific. And she was aghast at her own stupid 
clumsiness, she so experienced ! 

" Just as you like, dear," she said quickly. " Please ! " 

" Oh no ! " And he did his best to smile, and went off 
gawkily with the collar and came back with a linen one. 

Her passion for him burned stronger than ever. She knew 
then that she did not love him for his good qualities, but 
for something boyish and naive that there was about him, 
an indescribable something that occasionally, when his face 
was close to hers, made her dizzy. 

The chasm had disappeared. In such moments, when 
each must pretend not to have seen or even suspected the 
chasm, small -talk is essential. 



REVOLUTION. 153 

" Wasn't that Mr. Yardley in the shop to-night ? " began 
Constance. 

" Yes." 

" What did he want ? " 

" I'd sent for him. He's going to paint us a signboard." 

Useless for Samuel to make-believe that nothing in this 
world is more ordinary than a signboard. 

" Oh ! " murmured Constance. She said no more, the 
episode of the paper collar having weakened her self- 
confidence. 

But a signboard ! 

What with servants, chasms, and signboards, Constance 
considered that her life as a married woman would not be 
deficient in excitement. Long afterwards she fell asleep, 
thinking of Sophia. 



III. 

A few days later Constance was arranging the more 
precious of her wedding presents in the parlour ; some had 
to be wrapped in tissue and in brown paper and then tied 
with string and labelled ; others had special cases of their 
own, leather without and velvet within. Among the latter 
was the resplendent egg-stand holding twelve silver-gilt 
egg-cups and twelve chased spoons to match, presented 
by Aunt Harriet. In the Five Towns' phrase, " it must 
have cost money." Even if Mr. and Mrs. Povey had ten 
guests or ten children, and all the twelve of them were 
simultaneously gripped by a desire to eat eggs at break- 
fast or tea even in this remote contingency Aunt Harriet 
would have oeen pained to see the egg-stand in use ; such 
treasures are not designed for use. The presents, few in 
number, were mainly of this character, because, owing to 
her mother's heroic cession of the entire interior, Constance 
already possessed every necessary. The fewness of the pres- 
ents was accounted for by the fact that the wedding had 
been strictly private and had taken place at Axe. There is 
nothing like secrecy in marriage for discouraging the gener- 
ous impulses of one's friends. It was Mrs. Baines, abetted 
by both the chief parties, who had decided that the wedding 
should be private and secluded. Sophia's wedding had been 
altogether too private and secluded ; but the casting of a 
veil over Constance's (whose union was irreproachable) 
somehow justified, after the event, the circumstances of 
Sophia's, indicating as it did that Mrs. Baines believed in 



154 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

secret weddings on principle. In such matters Mrs. Baines 
was capable of extraordinary subtlety. 

And while Constance was thus taking her wedding presents 
with due seriousness, Maggie was cleaning the steps that led 
from the pavement of King Street to the side-door, and the 
door was ajar. It was a fine June morning. 

Suddenly, over the sound of scouring, Constance heard a 
dog's low growl and then the hoarse voice of a man : 

" Mester in, wench ? " 

" Happen he is, happen he isn't," came Maggie's answer. 
She had no fancy for being called wench. 

Constance went to the door, not merely from curiosity, 
but from a feeling that her authority and her responsibilities 
as house-mistress extended to the pavement surrounding 
the house. 

The famous James Boon, of Buck Row, the greatest 
dog-fancier in the Five Towns, stood at the bottom of the 
steps : a tall, fat man, clad in stiff, stained brown and smok- 
ing a black clay pipe less than three inches long. Behind 
him attended two bull-dogs. 

" Morning, missis ! " cried Boon, cheerfully. " I've heerd 
tell as th' mister is looking out for a dog, as you might say." 

" I don't stay here with them animals a-sniffing at me 
no, that I don't ! " observed Maggie, picking herself up. 

" Is he ? " Constance hesitated. She knew that Samuel 
had vaguely referred to dogs ; she had not, however, imagined 
that he regarded a dog as aught but a beautiful dream. No 
dog had ever put paw into that house, and it seemed im- 
possible that one should ever do so. As for those beasts of 
prey on the pavement . . . ! 

" Ay ! " said James Boon, calmly. 

" I'll tell him you're here," said Constance. '" But I don't 
know if he's at liberty. He seldom is at this time of day. 
Maggie, you'd better come in." 

She went slowly to the shop, full of fear for the future. 

" Sam," she whispered to her husband, who was writing at 
his desk, " here's a man come to see you about a dog." 

Assuredly he was taken aback. Still, he behaved with 
much presence of mind. 

" Oh, about a dog ! Who is it ? " 

" It's that Jim Boon. He says he's heard you want one." 

The renowned name of Jim Boon gave him pause ; but 
he had to go through with the affair, and he went through 
with it, though nervously. Constance followed his agitated 
footsteps to the side-door. 

" Morning, Boon." 



REVOLUTION. 155 

" Morning, mester." 

They began to talk dogs, Mr. Povey, for his part, with 
due caution. 

" Now, there's a dog ! " said Boon, pointing to one of the 
bull-dogs, a miracle of splendid ugliness. 

" Yes," responded Mr. Povey, insincerely. " He is a 
beauty. What's it worth now, at a venture ? " 

" I'll tak' a hundred and twenty sovereigns for her," said 
Boon. " Th' other's a bit cheaper a hundred." 

" Oh, Sam ! " gasped Constance. 

And even Mr. Povey nearly lost his nerve. " That's more 
than I want to give," said he timidly. 

" But look at her ! " Boon persisted, roughly snatching up 
the more expensive animal, and displaying her cannibal 
.teeth. 

Mr. Povey shook his head. Constance glanced away. 

" That's not quite the sort of dog I want," said Mr. Povey. 

" Fox-terrier ? " 

" Yes, that's more like," Mr. Povey agreed eagerly. 

" What'll ye run to ? " 

" Oh," said Mr. Povey, largely, " I don't know." 

" Will ye run to a tenner ? " 

" I thought of something cheaper." 

" Well, hoo much ? Out wi' it, mester." 

" Not more than two pounds," said Mr. Povey. He would 
have said one pound had he dared. The prices of dogs 
amazed him. 

" I thowt it was a dog as ye wanted ! " said Boon. " Look 
'ere, mester. Come up to my yard and see what I've got." 

" I will," said Mr. Povey. 

" And bring missis along too. Now, what about a cat for 
th' missis ? Or a gold-fish ? " 

The end of the episode was that a young lady aged some 
twelve months entered the Povey household on trial. Her 
exiguous legs twinkled all over the parlour, and she had the 
oddest appearance in the parlour. But she was so confiding, 
so affectionate, so timorous, and her black nose was so icy 
in that hot weather, that Constance loved her violently 
within an hour. Mr. Povey made rules for her. He ex- 
plained to her that she must never, never go into the shop. 
But she went, and he whipped her to the squealing point, 
and Constance cried an instant, while admiring her husband's 
firmness. 

The dog was not all. 

On another day Constance, prying into the least details of 
the parlour, discovered a box of cigars inside the lid of the 



156 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

harmonium, on the keyboard. She was so unaccustomed 
to cigars that at first she did not realize what the object was. 
Her father had never smoked, nor drunk intoxicants ; nor 
had Mr. Critchlow. Nobody had ever smoked in that house, 
where tobacco had always been regarded as equally licentious 
with cards, " the devil's playthings." Certainly Samuel had 
never smoked in the house, though the sight of the cigar-box 
reminded Constance of an occasion when her mother had 
announced an incredulous suspicion that Mr. Povey, fresh 
from an excursion into the world on a Thursday evening, 
" smelt of smoke." 

She closed the harmonium and kept silence. 

That very night, coming suddenly into the parlour, she 
caught Samuel at the harmonium. The lid went down with 
a resonant bang that awoke sympathetic vibrations in every 
corner of the room. 

" What is it ? " Constance inquired, jumping. 

" Oh, nothing ! " replied Mr. Povey, carelessly. 

Each was deceiving the other : Mr. Povey hid his crime, 
and Constance hid her knowledge of his crime. False, false ! 
But this is what marriage is. 

And the next day Constance had a visit in the shop from 
a possible new servant, recommended to her by Mr. Holl, 
the grocer. 

" Will you please step this way ? " said Constance, with 
affable primness, steeped in the novel sense of what it is to 
be the sole responsible mistress of a vast household. She 
preceded the girl to the parlour, and as they passed the open 
door of Mr. Povey's cutting-out room, Constance had the 
clear vision and titillating odour of her husband smoking a 
cigar. He was in his shirt-sleeves, calmly cutting out, and 
Fan (the lady companion), at watch on the bench, yapped 
at the possible new servant. 

" I think I shall try that girl," said she to Samuel at tea. 
She said nothing as to the cigar ; nor did he. 

On the following evening, after supper, Mr. Povey burst 
out : 

" I think I'll have a weed ! You didn't know I smoked, 
did you ? " 

Thus Mr. Povey came out in his true colours as a blood, 
a blade, and a gay spark. 

But dogs and cigars, disconcerting enough in their degree, 
were to the signboard, when the signboard at last came, as 
skim milk is to hot brandy. It was the signboard that, 
more startlingly than anything else, marked the dawn of 
a new era in St. Luke's Square. Four men spent a day 



REVOLUTION. 157 

and a half in fixing it ; they had ladders, ropes, and pulleys, 
and two of them dined on the flat lead roof of the project- 
ing shop-windows. The signboard was thirty-five feet long 
and two feet in depth ; over its centre was a semicircle about 
three feet in radius ; this semicircle bore the legend, judi- 
ciously disposed, " S. Povey. Late." All the signboard 
proper was devoted to the words, " John Baines," in gold 
letters a foot and a half high, on a green ground. 

The Square watched and wondered ; and murmured : 
" Well, bless us ! What next ? " 

It was agreed that in giving paramount importance to 
the name of his late father-in-law, Mr. Povey had displayed 
a very nice feeling. 

Some asked with glee: " What'll the old lady have to 
say ? " 

Constance asked herself this, but not with glee. When 
Constance walked down the Square homewards, she could 
scarcely bear to look at the sign ; the thought of what her 
mother might say frightened her. Her mother's first visit 
of state was imminent, and Aunt Harriet was to accompany 
her. Constance felt almost sick as the day approached. 
When she faintly hinted her apprehensions to Samuel, he 
demanded, as if surprised 

" Haven't you mentioned it in one of your letters ? " 

" Oh no ! " 

" If that's all," said he, with bravado, " I'll write and tell 
her myself." 



IV. 

So that Mrs. Baines was duly apprised of the signboard 
before her arrival. The letter written by her to Constance 
after receiving Samuel's letter, which was merely the 
amiable epistle of a son-in-law anxious to be a little more 
than correct, contained no reference to the signboard. This 
silence, however, did not in the least allay Constance's ap- 
prehensions as to what might occur when her mother and 
Samuel met beneath the signboard itself. It was therefore 
with a fearful as well as an eager, loving heart that Constance 
opened her side-door and ran down the steps when the 
waggonette stopped in King Street on the Thursday morning 
of the great visit of the sisters. But a surprise awaited her. 
Aunt Harriet had not come. Mrs. Baines explained, as she 
soundly kissed her daughter, that at the last moment Aunt 
Harriet had not felt well enough to undertake the journey. 



158 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

She sent her fondest love, and cake. Her pains had recurred. 
It was these mysterious pains which had prevented the sisters 
from coming to Bursley earlier. The word " cancer " the 
continual terror of stout women had been on their lips, 
without having been actually uttered ; then there was a 
surcease, and each was glad that she had refrained from 
the dread syllables. In view of the recurrence, it was not 
unnatural that Mrs. Baines's vigorous cheerfulness should 
be somewhat forced. 

" What is it, do you think ? " Constance inquired. 

Mrs. Baines pushed her lips out and raised her eyebrows 
a gesture which meant that the pains might mean God knew 
what. 

" I hope she'll be all right alone," observed Constance. 

" Of course," said Mrs. Baines quickly. " But you don't 
suppose I was going to disappoint you, do you ? " she added, 
looking round as if to defy the fates in general. 

This speech, and its tone, gave intense pleasure to Con- 
stance ; and, laden with parcels, they mounted the stairs 
together, very content with each other, very happy in the 
discovery that they were still mother and daughter, very 
intimate in an inarticulate way. 

Constance had imagined long, detailed, absorbing, and 
highly novel conversations between herself and her mother 
upon this their first meeting after her marriage. But alone 
in the bedroom, and with a clear half-hour to dinner, they 
neither of them seemed to have a great deal to impart. 

Mrs. Baines slowly removed her light mantle and laid it 
with precautions on the white damask counterpane. Then, 
fingering her weeds, she glanced about the chamber. Noth- 
ing was changed. Though Constance had, previous to her 
marriage, envisaged certain alterations, she had determined 
to postpone them, feeling that one revolutionist in a house 
was enough. 

" Well, my chick, you all right ? " said Mrs. Baines, with 
hearty and direct energy, gazing straight into her daughter's 
eyes. 

Constance perceived that the question was universal in 
its comprehensiveness, the one unique expression that the 
mother would give to her maternal concern and curiosity, 
and that condensed into six words as much interest as would 
have overflowed into a whole day of the chatter of some 
mothers. She met the candid glance, flushing. 

" Oh yes ! " she answered with ecstatic fervour. " Per- 
fectly ! " 

And Mrs. Baines nodded, as if dismissing that. " You're 



REVOLUTION. 159 

stouter," said she, curtly. " If you aren't careful you'll be 
as big as any of us." 

" Oh, mother ! " 

The interview fell to a lower plane of emotion. It even 
fell as far as Maggie. What chiefly preoccupied Constance 
was a subtle change in her mother. She found her mother 
fussy in trifles. Her manner of laying down her mantle, 
of smoothing out her gloves, and her anxiety that her 
bonnet should not come to harm, were rather trying, were 
perhaps, in the very slightest degree, pitiable. It was 
nothing ; it was barely perceptible, and yet it was enough 
to alter Constance's mental attitude to her mother. " Poor 
dear ! " thought Constance. "I'm afraid she's not what 
she was." Incredible that her mother could have aged in 
less than six weeks 1 Constance did not allow for the 
chemistry that had been going on in herself. 

The encounter between Mrs. Baines and her son-in-law 
was of the most satisfactory nature. He was waiting in the 
parlour for her to descend. He made himself exceedingly 
agreeable, kissing her, and flattering her by bis evidently 
sincere desire to please. He explained that he had kept an 
eye open for the waggonette, but had been called away. 
His " Dear me ! " on learning about Aunt Harriet lacked 
nothing in conviction, though both women knew that his 
affection for Aunt Harriet would never get the better of his 
reason. To Constance, her husband's behaviour was mar- 
vellously perfect. She had not suspected him to be such a 
man of the world. And her eyes said to her mother, quite 
unconsciously : " You see, after all, you didn't rate Sam as 
high as you ought to have done. Now you see your mistake." 

As they sat waiting for dinner, Constance and Mrs. Baines 
on the sofa, and Samuel on the edge of the nearest rocking- 
chair, a small scuffling noise was heard outside the door 
which gave on the kitchen steps, the door yielded to pressure, 
and Fan rushed importantly in, deranging mats. Fan's 
nose had been hinting to her that she was behind the times, 
not up-to-date in the affairs of the household, and she had 
hurried from the kitchen to make inquiries. It occurred to 
her en route that she had been washed that morning. The 
spectacle of Mrs. Baines stopped her. She stood, with her 
legs slightly outstretched, her nose lifted, her ears raking 
forward, her bright eyes blinking, and her tail undecided. 
" I was sure I'd never smelt anything like that before," she 
was saying to herself, as she stared at Mrs. Baines. 

And Mrs. Baines, staring at Fan, had a similar though not 
the same sentiment. The silence was terrible. Constance 



I6o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

took on the mien of a culprit, and Sam had obviously lost 
his easy bearing of a man of the world. Mrs. Baines was 
merely thunderstruck. 

A dog! 

Suddenly Fan's tail began to wag more quickly ; and then, 
having looked in vain for encouragement to her master and 
mistress, she gave one mighty spring and alighted in Mrs. 
Baines's lap. It was an aim she could not have missed. 
Constance emitted an " Oh, Fan ! " of shocked terror, and 
Samuel betrayed his nervous tension by an involuntary move- 
ment. But Fan had settled down into that titanic lap as 
into heaven. It was a greater flattery than Mr. Povey's. 

" So your name's Fan ! " murmured Mrs. Baines, stroking 
the animal. " You are a dear ! " 

" Yes, isn't she ? " said Constance, with inconceivable 
rapidity. 

The danger was past. Thus, without any explanation, 
Fan became an accepted fact. 

The next moment Maggie served the Yorkshire pudding. 

" Well, Maggie," said Mrs. Baines. " So you are going to 
get married this time ? When is it ? " 

" Sunday, ma'am." 

" And you leave here on Saturday ? " 

" Y;s, ma'am." 

" Well, I must have a talk with you before I go." 

During the dinner, not a word as to the signboard ! Sev- 
eral times the conversation curved towards that signboard 
in the most alarming fashion, but invariably it curved away 
again, like a train from another train when two trains are 
simultaneously leaving a station. Constance had frights, so 
serious as to destroy her anxiety about the cookery. In 
the end she comprehended that her mother had adopted a 
silently disapproving attitude. Fan was socially very useful 
throughout the repast. 

After dinner Constance was on pins lest Samuel should 
light a cigar. She had not requested him not to do so, for 
though she was entirely sure of his affection, she had already 
learned that a husband is possessed by a demon of con- 
trariety which often forces him to violate his higher feelings. 
However, Samuel did not light a cigar. He went off to 
superintend the shutting-up of the shop, while Mrs. Baines 
chatted with Maggie and gave her 5 for a wedding present. 
Then Mr. Critchlow called to offer his salutations. 

A little before tea Mrs. Baines announced that she would 
go out for a short walk by herself. 

" Where has she gone to ? " smiled Samuel, superiorly, as 



REVOLUTION. 161 

with Constance at the window he watched her turn down 
King Street towards the church. 

" I expect she has gone to look at father's grave," said 
Constance. 

" Oh ! " muttered Samuel apologetically. 

Constance was mistaken. Before reaching the church, 
Mrs. Baines deviated to the right, got into Brougham Street 
and thence, by Acre Lane, into Oldcastle Street, whose steep 
she climbed. Now, Oldcastle Street ends at the top of St. 
Luke's Square, and from the corner Mrs. Baines had an ex- 
cellent view of the signboard. It being Thursday afternoon, 
scarce a soul was about. She returned to her daughter's by 
the same extraordinary route, and said not a word on enter- 
ing. But she was markedly cheerful. 

The waggonette came after tea, and Mrs. Baines made her 
final preparations to depart. The visit had proved a wonder- 
ful success ; it would have been utterly perfect if Samuel had 
not marred it at the very door of the waggonette. Some- 
how, he contrived to be talking of Christmas. Only a per- 
son of Samuel's native clumsiness would have mentioned 
Christmas in July. 

" You know you'll spend Christmas with us ! " said he into 
the waggonette. 

" Indeed I shan't ! " replied Mrs. Baines. " Aunt Harriet 
and I will expect you at Axe. We've already settled that." 

Mr. Ppvey bridled. " Oh no ! " he protested, hurt by this 
summariness. 

Having had no relatives, except his cousin the confectioner, 
for many years, he had dreamt of at last establishing a family 
Christmas under his own roof, and the dream was dear to him. 

Mrs. Baines said nothing. " We couldn't possibly leave the 
shop," said Mr. Povey. 

" Nonsense ! " Mrs. Baines retorted, putting her lips to- 
gether. " Christmas Day is on a Monday." 

The waggonette in starting jerked her head towards the 
door and set all her curls shaking. No white in those curls 
yet, scarcely a touch of grey ! 

" I shall take good care we don't go there anyway," Mr. 
Povey mumbled, in his heat, half to himself and half to 
Constance. 

He had stained the brightness of the day. 



CHAPTER II. 

CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 
I. 

MR. POVEY was playing a hymn tune on the harmonium, it 
having been decided that no one should go to chapel. Con- 
stance, in mourning, with a white apron over her dress, sat 
on a hassock in front of the fire ; and near her, in a rocking- 
chair, Mrs. Baines swayed very gently to and fro. The 
weather was extremely cold. Mr. Povey's mittened hands 
were blue and red ; but, like many shopkeepers, he had ap- 
parently grown almost insensible to vagaries of temperature. 
Although the fire was immense and furious, its influence, 
owing to the fact that the mediaeval grate was designed to 
heat the flue rather than the room, seemed to die away at the 
borders of the fender. Constance could not have been much 
closer to it without being a salamander. The era of good 
old-fashioned Christmases, so agreeably picturesque for the 
poor, was not yet at an end. 

Yes, Samuel Povey had won the battle concerning the locus 
of the family Christmas. But he had received the help of a 
formidable ally, death. Mrs. Harriet Maddack had passed 
away, after an operation, leaving her house and her money 
to her sister. The solemn rite of her interment had deeply 
affected all the respectability of the town of Axe, where the 
late Mr. Maddack had been a figure of consequence ; it had 
even shut up the shop in St. Luke's Square for a whole day. 
It was such a funeral as Aunt Harriet herself would have ap- 
proved, a tremendous ceremonial which left on the crushed 
mind an ineffaceable, intricate impression of shiny cloth, 
crape, horses with arching necks. and long manes, the drawl 
of parsons, cake, port, sighs, and Christian submission to the 
inscrutable decrees of Providence. Mrs. Baines had borne 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 163 

herself with unnatural calmness until the funeral was over : 
and then Constance perceived that the remembered mother 
of her girlhood existed no longer. For the majority of human 
souls it would have been easier to love a virtuous principle, 
or a mountain, than to love Aunt Harriet, who was assuredly 
less a woman than an institution. But Mrs. Baines had 
loved her, and she had been the one person to whom Mrs. 
Baines looked for support and guidance. When she died, 
Mrs. Baines paid the tribute of respect with the last hoarded 
remains of her proud fortitude, and weepingly confessed that 
the unconquerable had been conquered, the inexhaustible 
exhausted ; and became old with whiten' g hair. 

She had persisted in her refusal t spen Christmas in 
Bursley, but both Constance and Samuel knew that the re- 
sistance was only formal. She soon yielded. When Con- 
stance's second new servant took it hit her head to leave a 
week before Christmas, Mrs. Baines migi-t have pointed the 
finger of Providence at work again, nnd this time in her 
favour. But no ! With amazing pliancy sh. suggested that 
she should bring one of her own servants to " tide Constance 
over " Christmas. She was met with all the forms of loving 
solicitude, and she found that her daughter and son-in-law 
had " turned out of " the state bedroom in her favour. In- 
tensely flattered by this attention (which was Mr. Povey's 
magnanimous idea), she nevertheless protested strongly. 
Indeed she " would not hear of it." 

" Now, mother, don't be silly," Constance had said firmly. 
" You don't expect us to be at all the trouble of moving back 
again, do you ? " And Mrs. Baines had surrendered in tears. 

Thus had come Christmas. Perhaps it was fortunate that, 
the Axe servant being not quite the ordinary servant, but a 
benefactor where a benefactor was needed, both Constance 
and her mother thought it well to occupy themselves in 
household work, " sparing " the benefactor as much as pos- 
sible. Hence Constance's white apron. 

" There he is ! " said Mr. Povey, still playing, but with his 
eye on the street. 

Constance sprang up eagerly. Then there was a knock on 
the door. Constance opened, and an icy blast swept into the 
room. The postman stood on the steps, his instrument for 
knocking (like a drumstick) in one hand, a large bundle of 
letters in the other, and a yawning bag across the pit of his 
stomach. 

" Merry Christmas, ma'am ! " cried the postman, trying to 
keep warm by cheerfulness. 

Constance, taking the letters, responded, while Mr. Povey, 



164 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

playing the harmonium with his right hand, drew half a 
crown from his pocket with the left. 

" Here you are ! " he said, giving it to Constance, who gave 
it to the postman. 

Fan, who had been keeping her muzzle warm with the ex- 
tremity of her tail on the sofa, jumped down to superintend 
the transaction. 

" Brrr ! " vibrated Mr. Povey as Constance shut the door. 

" What lots ! " Constance exclaimed, rushing to the fire. 
" Here, mother ! Here, Sam ! " 

The girl had resumed possession of the woman's body. 

Though the Baines family had few friends (sustained hospi- 
tality being little practised in those days) they had, of course, 
many acquaintances, and, like other families, they counted 
their Christmas cards as an Indian counts scalps. The tale 
was satisfactory. There were between thirty and forty en- 
velopes. Constance extracted Christmas cards rapidly, read- 
ing their contents aloud, and then propping them up on the 
mantelpiece. Mrs. Baines assisted. Fan dealt with the 
envelopes on the floor. Mr. Povey, to prove that his soul 
was above toys and gewgaws, continued to play the har- 
monium. 

" Oh, mother ! " Constance murmured in a startled, hesi- 
tant voice, holding an envelope. 

" What is it, my chuck ? " 

" It's " 

The envelope was addressed to " Mrs. and Miss Baines " in 
large, perpendicular, dashing characters which Constance in- 
stantly recognised as Sophia's. The stamps were strange, 
the postmark " Paris." Mrs. Baines leaned forward and 
looked. 

" Open it, child," she said. 

The envelope contained an English Christmas card of a 
common type, a spray of holly with greetings, and on it was 
written, " I do hope this will reach you on Christmas morn- 
ing. Fondest love." No signature, nor address. 

Mrs. Baines took it with a trembling hand, and adjusted 
her spectacles. She gazed at it a long time. 

" And it has done ! " she said, and wept. 

She tried to speak again, but not being able to command 
herself, held forth the card to Constance and jerked her head 
in the direction of Mr. Povey. Constance rose and put the 
card on the keyboard of the harmonium. 

" Sophia ! " she whispered. 

Mr. Povey stopped playing. " Dear, dear ! " he mut- 
tered. 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 165 

Fan, perceiving that nobody was interested in her feats, 
suddenly stood still. 

Mrs. Baines tried once more to speak, but could not. Then, 
her ringlets shaking beneath the band of her weeds, she 
found her feet, stepped to the harmonium, and, with a 
movement almost convulsive, snatched the card from Mr. 
Povey, and returned to her chair. 

Mr. Povey abruptly left the room, followed by Fan. Both 
the women were in tears, and he was tremendously surprised 
to discover a dangerous lump in his own throat. The beauti- 
ful and imperious vision of Sophia, Sophia as she had left 
them, innocent, wayward, had swiftly risen up before him 
and made even him a woman too ! Yet he had never liked 
Sophia. The awful secret wound in the family pride revealed 
itself to him as never before, and he felt intensely the mother's 
tragedy, which she carried in her breast as Aunt Harriet had 
carried a cancer. 

At dinner he said suddenly to Mrs. Baines, who still wept : 
" Now, mother, you must cheer up, you know." 

" Yes, I must," she said quickly. And she did so. 

Neither Samuel nor Constance saw the card again. Little 
was said. There was nothing to say. As Sophia had given 
no address she must be still ashamed of her situation. But 
she had thought of her mother, and sister. She . . . she did 
not even know that Constance was married . . . What sort 
of a place was Paris ? To Bursley, Paris was nothing but 
the site of a great exhibition which had recently closed. 

Through the influence of Mrs. Baines a new servant was 
found for Constance in a village near Axe a raw, comely girl 
who had never been in a " place." And through the post it 
was arranged that this innocent should come to the cave on 
the thirty-first of December. In obedience to the safe rule 
that servants should never be allowed to meet for the inter- 
change of opinions, Mrs. Baines decided to leave with her 
own servant on the thirtieth. She would not be persuaded 
to spend the New Year in the Square. On the twenty- 
ninth poor Aunt Maria died all of a sudden in her cottage 
in Brougham Street. Everybody was duly distressed, and 
in particular Mrs. Baines's demeanour under this affliction 
showed the perfection of correctness. But she caused it to be 
understood that she should not remain for the funeral. Her 
nerves would be unequal to the ordeal ; and, moreover, her 
servant must not stay to corrupt the new girl, nor could Mrs. 
Baines think of sending her servant to Axe in advance, to 
spend several days in idle gossip with her colleague. 

This decision took the backbone out of Aunt Maria's 



166 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

funeral, which touched the extreme of modesty : a hearse and 
a one-horse coach. Mr. Povey was glad, because he happened 
to be very busy. An hour before his mother-in-law's de- 
parture he came into the parlour with the proof of a poster. 

" What is that, Samuel ? " asked Mrs. Baines, not dreaming 
of the blow that awaited her. 

" It's for my first Annual Sale," replied Mr. Povey with 
false tranquillity. 

Mrs. Baines merely tossed her head. Constance, happily 
for Constance, was not present at this final defeat of the old 
order. Had she been ther, she would certainly not have 
known where to look. 



II. 

" Forty next birthday ! " Mr. Povey exclaimed one day, 
with an expression and in a tone that were at once mock- 
serious and serious. This was on his thirty-ninth birthday. 

Constance was startled. She had, of course, been aware 
that they were getting older, but she had never realized the 
phenomenon. Though customers occasionally remarked that 
Mr. Povey was stouter, and though when she helped him to 
measure himself for a new suit of clothes the tape proved 
the fact, he had not changed for her. She knew that she 
too had become somewhat stouter ; but for herself, she re- 
mained exactly the same Constance. Only by recalling 
dates and by calculations could she really grasp that she had 
been married a little over six years and not a little over six 
months. She had to admit that, if Samuel would be forty 
next birthday, she would be twenty-seven next birthday. 
But it would not be a real twenty-seven ; nor would Sam's 
forty be a real forty, like other people's twenty-sevens and 
forties. Not long since she had been in the habit of regard- 
ing a man of forty as senile, as practically in his grave. 

She reflected, and the more she reflected the more clearly 
she saw that after all the almanacs had not lied. Look at 
Fan ! Yes, it must be five years since the memorable morn- 
ing when doubt first crossed the minds of Samuel and Con- 
stance as to Fan's moral principles. Samuel's enthusiasm 
for dogs was equalled by his ignorance of the dangers to which 
a young female of temperament may be exposed, and he 
was much disturbed as doubt developed into certainty. 
Fan, indeed, was the one being who did not suffer from 
shock and who had no fears as to the results. The animal, 
having a pure mind, was bereft of modesty. Sundry enormi- 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 167 

ties had she committed, but none to rank with this one ! 
The result was four quadrupeds recognizable as fox-terriers. 
Mr. Povey breathed again. Fan had had more luck than 
she deserved, for the result might have been simply any- 
thing. Her owners forgave her and disposed of these fruits 
of iniquity, and then married her lawfully to a husband who 
was so high up in the world that he could demand a dowry. 
And now Fan was a grandmother, with fixed ideas and 
habits, and a son in the house, and various grandchildren 
scattered over the town. Fan was a sedate and disillusioned 
dog. She knew the world as it was, and in learning it she 
had taught her owners above a bit. 

Then there was Maggie Hollins. Constance could still 
vividly recall the self-consciousness with which she had one 
day received Maggie and the heir of the Hollinses ; but it 
was a long time ago. After staggering half the town by the 
production of this infant (of which she nearly died) Maggie 
allowed the angels to waft it away to heaven, and everybody 
said that she ought to 'be very thankful at her age. Old 
women dug up out of their minds forgotten histories df the 
eccentricities of the goddess Lucina. Mrs. Baines was most 
curiously interested ; she talked freely to Constance, and 
Constance began to see what an incredible town Bursley 
had always been and she never suspected it 1 Maggie was 
now mother of other children, and the draggled, lame mistress 
of a drunken home, and looked sixty. Despite her prophecy, 
her husband had conserved his " habits." The Poveys ate 
all the fish they could, and sometimes more than they en- 
joyed, because on his sober days Hollins invariably started 
his round at the shop, and Constance had to buy for Maggie's 
sake. The worst of the worthless husband was that he 
seldom failed to be cheery and polite. He never missed 
asking after the health of Mrs. Baines. And when Constance 
replied that her mother was " pretty well considering," but 
that she would not come over to Bursley again until the Axe 
railway was opened, as she could not stand the drive, he 
would shake his grey head and be sympathetically gloomy 
for an instant. 

All these changes in six years ! The almanacs were in the 
right of it. 

But nothing had happened to her. Gradually she had 
obtained a sure ascendency over her mother, yet without 
seeking it, merely as the outcome of time's influences on her 
and on her mother respectively. Gradually she had gained 
skill and use in the management of her household and of her 
share of the shop, so that these machines ran smoothly and 



1 68 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

effectively and a sudden contretemps no longer frightened 
her. Gradually she had constructed a chart of Samuel's in- 
dividuality, with the submerged rocks and perilous currents 
all carefully marked, so that she could now voyage unalarmed 
in those seas. But nothing happened. Unless their visits 
to Buxton could be called happenings ! Decidedly the visit 
to Buxton was the one little hill that rose out of the level 
plain of the year. They- had formed the annual habit of 
going to Buxton for ten days. They had a way of saying : 
" Yes, we always go to Buxton. We went there for our 
honeymoon, you know." They had become confirmed 
Buxtonites, with views concerning St. Anne's Terrace, the 
Broad Walk and Peel's Cavern. They could not dream of 
deserting their Buxton. It was the sole possible resort. 
Was it not the highest town in England ? Well, then ! 
They always stayed at the same lodgings, and grew to be 
special favourites of the landlady, who whispered of them to 
all her other guests as having come to her house for their 
honeymoon, and as never missing a year, and as being most 
respectable, superior people in quite a large way of business. 
Each year they walked out of Buxton station behind their 
luggage on a truck, full of joy and pride because they knew 
all the landmarks, and the lie of aU the streets, and which 
were the best shops. 

At the beginning, the notion of leaving the shop to hired 
custody had seemed almost fantastic, and the preparations 
for absence had been very complicated. Then it was that 
Miss Insull had detached herself from the other young lady 
assistants as a creature who could be absolutely trusted. 
Miss Insull was older than Constance ; she had a bad com- 
plexion, and she was not clever, but she was one of your 
reliable ones. The six years had witnessed the slow, steady 
rise of Miss Insull. Her employers said " Miss Insull " in a 
tone quite different from that in which they said " Miss 
Hawkins " or " Miss Dadd." " Miss Insull " meant the end 
of a discussion. " Better tell Miss Insull." " Miss Insull 
will see to that." " I shall ask Miss Insull." Miss 'Insull 
slept in the house ten nights every year. Miss Insull had 
been called into consultation when it was decided to engage 
a fourth hand in the shape of an apprentice. 

Trade had improved in the point of excellence. It was 
now admitted to be good a rare honour for trade ! The 
coal-mining boom was at its height, and colliers, in addition 
to getting drunk, were buying American organs and ex- 
pensive bull-terriers. Often they would come to the shop 
to purchase cloth for coats for their dogs. And they would 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 169 

have good cloth. Mr. Povey did not like this. One day a 
butty chose for his dog the best cloth of Mr. Povey's shop 
at I2S. a yard. " Will ye make it up ? I've gotten th' 
measurements," asked the collier. " No, I won't 1 " said 
Mr. Povey, hotly. " And what's more, I won't sell you the 
cloth either ! Cloth at 125. a yard on a dog's back indeed ! 
I'll thank you to get out of my shop I " The incident became 
historic, in the Square. It finally established that Mr. Povey 
was a worthy son-in-law and a solid and successful man. It 
vindicated the old pre-eminence of " Baines's." Some sur- 
prise was expressed that Mr. Povey showed no desire nor 
tendency towards entering the public life of the town. But 
he never would, though a keen satirical critic of the Local 
Board in private. And at the chapel he remained a simple 
private worshipper, refusing stewardships and trusteeships. 



III. 
i 

Was Constance happy ? Of course there was always some- 
thing on her mind, something that had to be dealt with, 
cither in the shop or in the house, something to employ all 
the skill and experience which she had acquired. Her life 
had much in it of laborious tedium tedium never-ending 
and monotonous. And both she and Samuel worked con- 
sistently hard, rising early, " pushing forward," as the phrase 
ran, and going to bed early from sheer fatigue ; week after 
week and month after month as season changed impercep- 
tibly into season. In June and July it would happen to them 
occasionally to retire before the last silver of dusk was out of 
the sky. They would He in bed and talk placidly of their 
daily affairs. There would be a noise in the street below. 
" Vaults closing ! " Samuel would say, and yawn. " Yes, 
it's quite late," Constance would say. And the Swiss clock 
would rapidly strike eleven on its coil of resonant wire. And 
then, just before she went to sleep, Constance might reflect 
upon her destiny, as even the busiest and smoothest women 
do, and she would decide that it was kind. Her mother's 
gradual decline and lonely life at Axe saddened her. The 
cards which came now and then at extremely long intervals 
from Sophia had been the cause of more sorrow than joy. 
The naive ecstasies of her girlhood had long since departed 
the price paid for experience and self-possession and a true 
vision of things. The vast inherent melancholy of the uni- 
verse did not exempt her. But as she went to sleep she 

6 a 



i yo THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

would be conscious of a vague contentment. The basis of 
this contentment was the fact that she and Samuel compre- 
hended and esteemed each other, and made allowances for 
each other. Their characters had been "tested and had stood 
the test. Affection, love, was not to them a salient phe- 
nomenon in their relations. Habit had inevitably dulled its 
glitter. It was like a flavouring, scarce remarked ; but had 
it been absent, how they would have turned from that dish ! 
Samuel never, or hardly ever, set himself to meditate upon 
the problem whether or not life had come up to his expecta- 
tions. But he had, at times, strange sensations which he 
did not analyze, and which approached nearer to ecstasy 
than any feeling of Constance's. Thus, when he was in one 
of his dark furies, molten within and black without, the sudden 
thought of his wife's unalterable benignant calm, which 
nothing could overthrow, might strike him into a wondering 
cold. For him she was astoundingly feminine. She would 
put flowers on the mantelpiece, and then, hours afterwards, 
in the middle of a meal, ask him unexpectedly what he 
thought of her " garden ; " and he gradually divined that a 
perfunctory reply left her unsatisfied ; she wanted a genuine 
opinion ; a genuine opinion mattered to her. Fancy calling 
flowers on a mantelpiece a " garden " ! How charming, 
how childlike ! Then she had a way, on Sunday mornings, 
when she descended to the parlour all ready for chapel, of 
shutting the door at the foot of the stairs with a little bang, 
shaking herself, and turning round swiftly as if for his in- 
spection, as if saying : " Well, what about this ? Will this 
do ? " A phenomenon always associated in his mind with 
the smell of kid gloves ! Invariably she asked him about 
the colours and cut of her dresses. Would he prefer this, 
or that ? He could not take such questions seriously until 
one day he happened to hint, merely hint, that he was not 
a thorough-going admirer of a certain new dress it was her 
first new dress after the definite abandonment of crinolines. 
She never wore it again. He thought she was not serious at 
first, and remonstrated against a joke being carried too far. 
She said : " It's not a bit of use you talking, I shan't wear it 
again." And then he so far appreciated her seriousness as 
to refrain, by discretion, from any comment. The incident 
affected him for days. It flattered him ; it thrilled him ; 
but it baffled him. Strange that a woman subject to such 
caprices should be so sagacious, capable, and utterly reliable 
as Constance was ! For the practical and commonsense side 
of her eternally compelled his admiration. The very first 
example of it her insistence that the simultaneous absence 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 171 

of both of them from the shop for half an hour or an hour 
twice a day would not mean the immediate downfall of the 
business had remained in his mind ever since. Had she 
not been obstinate in her benevolent way against the 
old superstition which he had acquired from his employers, 
they might have been eating separately to that day. Then 
her handling of her mother during the months of the siege 
of Paris, when Mrs. Baines was convinced that her sinful 
daughter was in hourly danger of death, had been extraor- 
dinarily fine, he considered. And the sequel, a card for 
Constance's birthday, had completely justified her attitude. 

Sometimes some blundering fool would jovially exclaim 
to them : 

" What about that baby ? " 

Or a woman would remark quietly: " I often feel sorry 
you've no children." 

And they would answer that really they did not know 
what they would do if there was a baby. What with the 
shop and one thing or another . . . ! And they were quite 
sincere. 



IV. 

It is remarkable what a little thing will draw even the 
most regular and serious people from the deep groove of 
their habits. One morning in March, a boneshaker, an 
affair on two equal wooden wheels joined by a bar of iron, 
in the middle of which was a wooden saddle, disturbed the 
gravity of St. Luke's Square. True, it was probably the first 
boneshaker that had ever attacked the gravity of St. Luke's 
Square. It came out of the shop of Daniel Povey, the con- 
fectioner and baker, and Samuel Povey's celebrated cousin, 
in Boulton Terrace. Boulton Terrace formed nearly a right 
angle with the Baines premises, and at the corner of the 
angle Wedgwood Street and King Street left the Square. 
The boneshaker was brought forth by Dick Povey, the only 
son of Daniel, now aged eleven years, under the superintend- 
ence of his father, and the Square soon perceived that Dick 
had a natural talent for breaking-in an untrained boneshaker. 
After a few attempts he could remain on the back of the 
machine for at least ten yards, and his feats had the effect of 
endowing St. Luke's Square with the attractiveness of a 
circus. Samuel Povey watched with candid interest from 
the ambush of his door, while the unfortunate young lady 
assistants, though aware of the performance that was going 



172 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

on, dared not stir from the stove. Samuel was tremendously 
tempted to sally out boldly, and chat with his cousin about 
the toy ; he had surely a better right, to do so than any 
other tradesman in the Square, since he was of the family ; 
but his diffidence prevented him from moving. Presently 
Daniel Povey and Dick went to the top of the Square with 
the machine, opposite Holl's, and Dick, being carefully in- 
stalled in the saddle, essayed to descend the gentle paven 
slopes of the Square. He failed time after time ; the machine 
had an astonishing way of turning round, running uphill, and 
then lying calmly on its side. At this point of Dick's life- 
history every shop-door in the Square was occupied by an 
audience. At last the boneshaker displayed less unwilling- 
ness to obey, and lo ! in a moment Dick was riding down the 
Square, and the spectaprs held their breath as if he had been 
Blondin crossing Niagara. Every second he ought to have 
fallen off, but he contrived to keep upright. Already he had 
accomplished twenty yards thirty yards ! It was a miracle 
that he was performing ! The transit continued, and seemed 
to occupy hours. And then a faint hope rose in the breast of 
the watchers that the prodigy might arrive at the bottom of 
the Square. His speed was increasing with his " nack." 
But the Square was enormous, boundless. Samuel Povey 
gazed at the approaching phenomenon, as a bird at a serpent, 
with bulging, beady eyes. The child's speed went on in- 
creasing and his path grew straighter. Yes, he would arrive ; 
he would do it ! Samuel Povey involuntarily lifted one leg 
in his nervous tension. And now the hope that Dick would 
arrive became a fear, as his pace grew still more rapid. 
Everybody lifted one leg, and gaped. And the intrepid child 
surged on, and, finally victorious, crashed into the pavement 
in front of Samuel at the rate of quite six miles an hour. 

Samuel picked him up, unscathed. And somehow this 
picking up of Dick invested Samuel with importance, gave 
him a share in the glory of the feat itself. 

Daniel Povey came running and joyous. " Not so bad 
for a start, eh ? " exclaimed the great Daniel. Though by 
no means a simple man, his pride in his offspring some- 
times made him a little naive. 

Father and son explained the machine to Samuel, Dick 
incessantly repeating the exceedingly strange truth that if 
you felt you were falling to your right you must turn to your 
right and vice versd. Samuel found himself suddenly ad- 
mitted, as it were, to the inner fellowship of the boneshaker, 
exalted above the rest of the Square. In another adventure 
more thrilling events occurred. The fair-haired Dick was 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 173 

one of those dangerous, frenzied madcaps who are born with- 
out fear. The secret of the machine had been revealed to 
him in his recent transit, and he was silently determining 
to surpass himself. Precariously balanced, he descended 
the Square again, frowning hard, his teeth set, and actually 
managed to swerve into King Street. Constance, in the 
parlour, saw an incomprehensible winged thing fly past the 
window. The cousins Povey sounded an alarm and protest 
and ran in pursuit ; for the gradient of King Street is, in 
the strict sense, steep. Half-way down King Street Dick was 
travelling at twenty miles an hour, and heading straight for 
the church, as though he.meant to disestablish it and perish. 
The main gate of the churchyard was open, and that affright- 
ing child, with a lunatic's luck, whizzed safely through the 
portals into God's acre. The cousins Povey discovered him 
lying on a green grave, clothed in pride. His first words were : 
" Dad, did you pick my cap up ? " The symbolism of the 
amazing ride did not escape the Square ; indeed, it was 
much discussed. 

This incident led to a friendship between the cousins. 
They formed a habit of meeting in the Square for a chat. 
The meetings were the subject of comment, for Samuel's 
relations with the greater Daniel had always been of the 
most distant. It was understood that Samuel disapproved 
of Mrs. Daniel Povey even more than the majority of people 
disapproved of her. Mrs. Daniel Povey, however, was 
away from home ; probably, had she not been, Samuel would 
not even have gone to the length of joining Daniel on the 
neutral ground of the open Square. But having once broken 
ithe ice, Samuel was glad to be on terms of growing intimacy 
with his cousin. The friendship flattered him, for Daniel, 
despite his wife, was a figure in a world larger than Samuel's ; 
moreover, it consecrated his position as the equal of no 
matter what tradesman (apprentice though he had been), 
and also he genuinely liked and admired Daniel, rather to 
his own astonishment. 

Every one liked Daniel Povey ; he was a favourite among 
all ranks. The leading confectioner, a member of the Local 
Board, and a sidesman at St. Luke's, he was, and had been 
for twenty-five years, very prominent in the town. He was 
a tall, handsome man, with a trimmed, greying beard, a 
jolly smile, and a flashing, dark eye. His good humour 
seemed to be permanent. He had dignity without the 
slightes 4 " stiffness ; he was welcomed by his equals and 
frankly adored by his inferiors. He ought to have been 
Chief Bailiff, for he was rich enough ; but there intervened r 



174 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

mysterious obstacle between Daniel Povey and the supreme 
honour, a scarcely tangible impediment which could not be 
definitely stated. He was capable, honest, industrious, 
successful, and an excellent speaker ; and if he did not belong 
"to the austerer section of society, if, for example, he thought 
nothing of dropping into the Tiger for a glass of beer, or of 
using an oath occasionally, or of telling a facetious story 
well, in a busy, broad-minded town of thirty thousand in- 
habitants, such proclivities are no bar whatever to perfect 
esteem. But how is one to phrase it without wronging 
Daniel Povey ? He was entirely moral ; his views were 
unexceptionable. The truth is that, for the ruling classes 
of Bursley, Daniel Povey was just a little too fanatical a 
worshipper of the god Pan. He was one of the remnant 
who had kept alive the great Pan tradition from the days 
of the Regency through the vast, arid Victorian expanse of 
years. The flighty character of his wife was regarded by 
many as a judgment upon him for the robust Rabelaisianism 
of his more private conversation, for his frank interest in, 
his eternal preoccupation with, aspects of life and human 
activity which, though essential to the divine purpose, are 
not openly recognized as such even by Daniel Poveys. It 
was not a question of his conduct ; it was a question of the 
cast of his mind. If it did not explain his friendship with 
the rector of St. Luke's, it explained his departure from the 
Primitive Methodist connexion, to which the Poveys as 
a family had belonged since Primitive Methodism was 
created in Turnhill in 1807. 

Daniel Povey had a way of assuming that every male was 
boiling over with interest in the sacred cult of Pan. The 
assumption, though sometimes causing inconvenience at 
first, usually conquered by virtue of its inherent truthfulness. 
Thus it fell out with Samuel. Samuel had not suspected 
that Pan had silken cords to draw him. He had always 
averted his eyes from the god that is to say, within reason. 
Yet now Daniel, on perhaps a couple of fine mornings a week, 
in full Square, with Fan sitting behind on the cold stones, 
and Mr. Critchlow ironic at his door in a long white apron, 
would entertain Samuel Povey for half an hour with Pan's 
most i-itimate lore, and Samuel Povey would not blench. 
He would, on the contrary, stand up to Daniel like a little 
man, and pretend with all his might to be, potentially, a 
perfect arch-priest of the god. Daniel taught him a lot ; 
turned over the page of life for him, as it were, and, showing 
the reverse side, seemed to say : " You were missing all 
that." Samuel gazed upwards at the handsome long nose 



CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE. 175 

and rich lips of his elder cousin, so experienced, so agreeable, 
so renowned, so esteemed, so philosophic, and admitted to 
himself that he had lived to the age of forty in a state of 
comparative boobyism. And then he would gaze downwards 
at the faint patch of flour on Daniel's right leg, and conceive 
that life was, and must be, life. 

Not many weeks after his initiation into the cult he was 
startled by Constance's preoccupied face one evening. Now, 
a husband of six years' standing, to whom it has not hap- 
pened to become a father, is not easily startled by such a 
face as Constance wore. Years ago he had frequently been 
startled, had frequently lived in suspense for a few days. 
But he had long since grown impervious to these alarms. 
And now he was startled again but as a man may be 
startled who is not altogether surprised at being startled. 
And seven endless days passed, and Samuel and Constance 
glanced at each other like guilty things, whose secret refuses 
to be kept. Then three more days passed, and another three. 
Then Samuel Povey remarked, in a firm, masculine, fact- 
fronting tone : 

" Oh, there's no doubt about it ! " 

And they glanced at each other like conspirators who 
have lighted a fuse and cannot take refuge in flight. Their 
eyes said continually, with a delicious, an enchanting mixture 
of ingenuous modesty and fearful joy : 

" Well, we've gone and done it ! " 

There it was, the incredible, incomprehensible future 
coming ! 

Samuel had never correctly imagined the manner of its 
heralding. He had imagined in his early simplicity that one 
day Constance, blushing, might put her mouth to his ear and 
whisper something positive. It had not occurred in the 
least like that. But things are so obstinately, so incurably 
unsentimental . 

" I think we ought to drive over and tell mother, on 
Sunday," said Constance. 

His impulse was to reply, in his grand, offhand style : 
" Oh, a letter will do ! " 

But he checked himself and said, with careful deference : 
" You think that will be better than writing ? " 

All was changed. He braced every fibre to meet destiny, 
and to help Constance to meet it. 

The weather threatened on Sunday. He went to Axe 
without Constance. His cousin drove him there in a dog- 
cart, and he announced that he should walk home, as the 
exercise would do him good. During the drive Daniel, in 



176 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

whom he had not confided, chattered as usual, and Samuel 
pretended to listen with the same attitude as usual ; but 
secretly he despised Daniel for a man who has got something 
not of the first importance on the brain. His perspective 
was truer than Daniel's. 

He walked home, as he had decided, over the wavy moor- 
land of the county dreaming in the heart of England. Night 
fell on him in mid-career, and he was tired. But the earth, 
as it whirled through naked space, whirled up the moon for 
him, and he pressed on at a good speed. A wind from 
Arabia wandering cooled his face. And at last, over the 
brow of Toft End, he saw suddenly the Five Towns a-twinkle 
on their little hills down in the vast amphitheatre. And one 
of those lamps was Constance's lamp one, somewhere. He 
lived, then. He entered into the shadow of nature. The 
mysteries made him solemn. What ! A boneshaker, his 
cousin, and then this ! 

" Well, I'm damned ! Well, I'm damned ! " he kept 
repeating, he who never swore. 



CHAPTER III. 

CYRIL. 
I. 

CONSTANCE stood at the large, many-paned window in the 
parlour. She was stouter. Although always plump, her 
figure had been comely, with a neat, well-marked waist. But 
now the shapeliness had gone ; the waist-line no longer existed, 
and there were no more crinolines to create it artificially. 
An observer not under the charm of her face might have 
been excused for calling her fat and lumpy. The face, grave, 
kind, and expectant, with its radiant, fresh cheeks, and the 
rounded softness of its curves, atoned for the figure. She 
was nearly twenty-nine years of age. 

It was late in October. In Wedgwood Street, next to 
Boulton Terrace, all the little brown houses had been pulled 
down to make room for a palatial covered market, whose 
foundations were then being dug. This destruction exposed 
a vast area of sky to the north-east. A great dark cloud 
with an untidy edge rose massively out of the depths and 
curtained off the tender blue of approaching dusk ; while in 
the west, behind Constance, the sun was setting in calm and 
gorgeous melancholy on the Thursday hush of the town. 
It was one of those afternoons which gather up all the sad- 
ness of the moving earth and transform it into beauty. 

Samuel Povey turned the corner from Wedgwood Street, 
and crossed King Street obliquely to the front-door, which 
Constance opened. He seemed tired and anxious. 

" Well ? " demanded Constance, as he entered. 

" She's no better. There's no getting away from it, she's 
worse. I should have stayed, only I knew you'd be worry- 
ing. So I caught the three-fifty." 

" How is that Mrs. Gilchrist shaping as a nurse ? " 



178 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" She's very good," said Samuel, with conviction. " Very 
good ! " 

" What a blessing ! I suppose you didn't happen to see 
the doctor ? " 

" Yes, I did." 

" What did he say to you ? " 

Samuel gave a deprecating gesture. " Didn't say any- 
thing particular. With dropsy, at that stage, you know . . ." 

Constance had returned to the window, her expectancy 
apparently unappeased. 

" I don't like the look of that cloud," she murmured. 

" What ! Are they out still ? " Samuel inquired, taking 
off his overcoat. 

" Here they are ! " cried Constance. Her features sud- 
denly transfigured, she sprang to the door, pulled it open, 
and descended the steps. 

A perambulator was being rapidly pushed up the slope by 
a breathless girl. 

" Amy," Constance gently protested, " I told you not to 
venture far." 

" I hurried all I could, mum, soon as I seed that cloud,'- 
the girl puffed, with the air of one who is seriously thankful 
to have escaped a great disaster. 

Constance dived into the recesses of the perambulator and 
extricated from its cocoon the centre of the universe, and 
scrutinized him with quiet passion, and then rushed with 
him into the house, though not a drop of rain had yet 
fallen. 

" Precious ! " exclaimed Amy, in ecstasy, her young 
virginal eyes following him till he disappeared. Then she 
wheeled away the perambulator, which now had no more 
value nor interest than an egg-shell. It was necessary to take 
it right round to the Brougham Street yard entrance, past 
the front of the closed shop. 

Constance sat down on the horsehair sofa and hugged and 
kissed her prize before removing his bonnet. 

" Here's Daddy ! " she said to him, as if imparting strange 
and rapturous tidings. " Here's Daddy come back from 
hanging up lus coat in the passage ! Daddy rubbing his 
hands ! " And then, with a swift transition of voice and 
features : " Do look at him, Sam ! " 

Samuel, preoccupied, stooped forward. " Oh, you little 
scoundrel ! Oh, you little scoundrel ! " he greeted the 
baby, advancing his finger towards the baby's nose. 

The baby, who had hitherto maintained a passive indiffer- 
ence to external phenomena, lifted elbows and toes, blew 



CYRIL. 179 

bubbles from his tiny mouth, and stared at the finger with 
the most ravishing, roguish smile, as though saying : " I 
know that great sticking-out limb, and there is a joke about 
it which no one but me can see, and which is my secret joy 
that you shall never share." 

" Tea ready ? " Samuel asked, resuming his gravity and 
his ordinary pose. 

" You must give the girl time to take her things off," 
said Constance. " We'll have the table drawn away from the 
fire, and baby can lie on his shawl on the hearthrug while 
we're having tea." Then to the baby, in rapture : " And 
play with his toys ; all his nice, nice toys ! " 

" You know Miss Insull is staying for tea ? " 

Constance, her head bent over the baby, who formed a 
white patch on her comfortable brown frock, nodded without 
speaking. 

Samuel Povey, walking to and fro, began to enter into 
details of his hasty journey to Axe. Old Mrs. Baines, having 
beheld her grandson, was preparing to quit this world. 
Never again would she exclaim, in her brusque tone of 
genial rutblessness : " Fiddlesticks ! " The situation was 
very difficult and distressing, for Constance could not leave 
her baby, and she would not, until the last urgency, run 
the risks of a journey with him to Axe. He was being 
weaned. In any case Constance could not have undertaken 
the nursing of her mother. A nurse had to be found. Mr. 
Povey had discovered one in the person of Mrs. Gilchrist, 
the second wife of a farmer at Malpas in Cheshire, whose first 
wife had been a sister of the late John Baines. All the credit 
of Mrs. Gilchrist was due to Samuel Povey. Mrs. Baines 
fretted seriously about Sophia, who had given no sign of life 
for a very long time. Mr. Povey went to Manchester and 
ascertained definitely from the relatives of Scales that noth- 
ing was known of the pair. He did not go to Manchester 
especially on this errand. About once in three weeks, on 
Tuesdays, he had to visit the Manchester warehouses ; but the 
tracking of Scales's relative cost him so much trouble and 
time that, curiously, he came to believe that he had gone to 
Manchester one Tuesday for no other end. Although he was 
very busy indeed in the shop, he flew over to Axe and back 
whenever he possibly could to the neglect of his affairs. 
He was glad to do all that was in his power ; even if he had 
not done it graciously his sensitive, tyrannic conscience would 
have forced him to do it. But nevertheless he felt rather 
virtuous, and worry and fatigue and loss of sleep intensified 
this sense of virtue. 



i8o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" So that if there is any sudden change they will telegraph," 
he finished to Constance. 

She raised her head. The words, clinching what had led 
up to them, drew her from her dream and she saw, for a 
moment, her mother in an agony. 

" But you don't surely mean ? " she began, trying to 
disperse the painful vision as unjustified by the facts. 

My dear girl," said Sa,muel, with head singing, and hot 
eyes, and a consciousness of high tension in every nerve of 
his body, " I simply mean that if there's any sudden change 
they will telegraph." 

While they had tea, Samuel sitting opposite to his wife, 
and Miss Insull nearly against the wall (owing to the moving 
of the table), the baby rolled about on the hearthrug, which 
had been covered with a large soft woollen shawl, originally 
the property of his great-grandmother. He had no cares, no 
responsibilities. The shawl was so vast that he could not 
clearly distinguish objects beyond its confines. On it lay an 
indiarubber ball, an indiarubber doll, a rattle, and fan. He 
vaguely recollected all four items, with their respective prop- 
erties. The fire also was an old friend. He had occasion- 
ally tried to touch it, but a high bright fence always came in 
between. For ten months he had never spent a day without 
making experiments on this shifting universe in which he 
alone remained firm and stationary. The experiments were 
chiefly conducted out of idle amusement, but he was serious 
on the subject of food. Lately the behaviour of the universe 
in regard to his food had somewhat perplexed him, had 
indeed annoyed him. However, he was of a forgetful, happy 
disposition, and so long as the universe continued to fulfil 
its sole end as a machinery for the satisfaction, somehow, 
of his imperious desires, he was not inclined to remonstrate. 
He gazed at the flames and laughed, and laughed because he 
had laughed. He pushed the ball away and wriggled after it, 
and captured it with the assurance of practice. He tried to 
swallow the doll, and it was not until he had tried several 
times to swallow it that he remembered the failure of previous 
efforts and philosophically desisted. He rolled with a fear- 
ful shock, arms and legs in the air, against the mountainous 
flank of that mammoth Fan, and clutched at Fan's ear. The 
whole mass of Fan upheaved and vanished from his view, 
and was instantly forgotten by him. He seized the doll and 
tried to swallow it, and repeated the exhibition of his skill 
with the ball. Then he saw the fire again and laughed. And 
so he existed for centuries : no responsibilities, no appetites ; 
and the shawl was vast. Terrific operations went on over 



CYRIL. 181 

his head. Giants moved to and fro. Great vessels were 
carried off and great books were brought and deep voices 
rumbled regularly in the spaces beyond the shawl. But he 
remained oblivious. At last he became aware that a face 
was looking down at his. He recognized it, and immediately 
an uncomfortable sensation in his stomach disturbed him ; 
he tolerated it for fifty years or so, and then he gave a little 
cry. Life had resumed its seriousness. 

" Black alpaca. B quality. Width 20, t.a. 22 yards," 
Miss Insull read out of a great book. She and Mr. Povey 
were checking stock. 

And Mr. Povey responded, " Black alpaca B quality. 
Width 20, t.a. 22 yards. It wants ten minutes yet." He 
had glanced at the clock. 

" Does it ? " said Constance, well knowing that it wanted 
ten minutes. 

The baby did not guess that a high invisible god named 
Samuel Povey, whom nothing escaped, and who could do 
everything at once, was controlling his universe from an 
inconceivable distance. On the contrary, the baby was 
crying to himself, There is no God. 

His weaning had reached a stage at which a baby really 
does not know what will happen next. The annoyance had 
begun exactly three months after his first tooth, such being 
the rule of the gods, and it had grown more and more dis- 
concerting. No sooner did he accustom himself to a new 
phenomenon than it mysteriously ceased, and an old one 
took its place which he had utterly forgotten. This afternoon 
his mother nursed him, but not until she had foolishly 
attempted to divert him from the seriousness of life by 
means of gewgaws of which he was sick. Still, once at her 
rich breast, he forgave and forgot all. He preferred her 
simple natural breast to more modern inventions. And he 
had no shame, no modesty. Nor had his mother. It was 
an indecent carouse at which his father and Miss Insull had 
to assist. But his father had shame. His father would 
have preferred that, as Miss Insull had kindly offered to stop 
and work on Thursday afternoon, and as the shop was 
chilly, the due rotation should have brought the bottle round 
at half-past five o'clock, and not the mother's breast. He was 
a self-conscious parent, rather apologetic to the world, rather 
apt to stand off and pretend that he had nothing to do with 
the affair ; and he genuinely disliked that anybody should 
witness the intimate scene of his wife feeding his baby. 
Especially Miss Insull, that prim, dark, moustached spinster ! 
He would not have called it an outrage on Miss Insull, to force 



1 82 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

her to witness the scene, but his idea approached within sight 
of the word. 

Constance blandly offered herself to the child, with the 
unconscious primitive savagery of a young mother, and as 
the baby fed, thoughts of her own mother flitted to and fro 
ceaselessly like vague shapes over the deep sea of content 
which filled her mind. This illness of her mother's was 
abnormal, and the baby was now, for the first time perhaps, 
entirely normal in her consciousness. The baby was some- 
thing which could be disturbed, not something which did dis- 
turb. What a change ! What a change that had seemed 
impossible until its full accomplishment ! 

For months before the birth, she had glimpsed at nights 
and in other silent hours the tremendous upset. She had 
not allowed herself to be silly in advance ; by temperament 
she was too sagacious, too well balanced for that ; but she 
had had fitful instants of terror, when solid ground seemed 
to sink away from her, and imagination shook at what faced 
her. Instants only ! Usually she could play the comedy of 
sensible calmness to almost perfection. Then the appointed 
time drew nigh. And still she smiled, and Samuel smiled. 
But the preparations, meticulous, intricate, revolutionary, 
belied their smiles. The intense resolve to keep Mrs. Baines, 
by methods scrupulous or unscrupulous, away from Bursley 
until all was over, belied their smiles. And then the first 
pains, sharp, shocking, cruel, heralds of torture ! But when 
they had withdrawn, she smiled again, palely. Then she was 
in bed, full of the sensation that the whole house was in- 
verted and disorganized, hopelessly. And the doctor came 
into the room. She smiled at the doctor apologetically, 
foolishly, as if saying : " We all come to it. Here I am." 
She was calm without. Oh, but what a prey of abject fear 
within ! "I am at the edge of the precipice," her thought 
ran ; " in a moment I shall be over." And then the pains 
not the heralds but the shattering army, endless, increasing 
in terror as they thundered across her. Yet she could think 
quite clearly : " Now I'm in the middle of it. This is it, 
the horror that I have not dared to look at. My life's in the 
balance. I may never get up again. All has at last come 
to pass. It seemed as if it would never come, as if this 
thing could not happen to me. But at last it has come to 
pass ! " 

Ah ! Some one put the twisted end of a towel into her 
hand again she had loosed it ; and she pulled, pulled, enough 
to break cables. And then she shrieked. It was for pity. 
It was for some one to help her, at any rate to take notice of 



CYRIL. 183 

her. She was dying. Her soul was leaving her. And she 
was alone, panic-stricken, in the midst of a cataclysm a thou- 
sand times surpassing all that she had imagined of sickening 
horror. " I cannot endure this," she thought passionately. 
" It is impossible that I should be asked to endure this ! " 
And then she wept ; beaten, terrorized, smashed and riven. 
No commonsense now ! No wise calmness now ! No self- 
respect now ! Why, not even a woman now ! Nothing but 
a kind of animalized victim ! And then the supreme endless 
spasm, during which she gave up the ghost and bade good- 
bye to her very self. . . . 

She was lying quite comfortable in the soft bed ; idle, silly ; 
happiness forming like a thin crust over the lava of her an- 
guish and her fright. And by her side was the soul that had 
fought its way out of her, ruthlessly ; the secret disturber 
revealed to the light of morning. Curious to look at ! Not 
like any baby that she had ever seen ; red, creased, brutish ! 
But for some reason that she did not examine she folded 
it in an immense tenderness. 

Sam was by the bed, away from her eyes. She was so 
comfortable and silly that she could not move her head nor 
even ask him to come round to her eyes. She had to wait 
till he came. 

In the afternoon the doctor returned, and astounded her by 
saying that hers had been an ideal confinement. She was 
too weary to rebuke him for a senseless, blind, callous old 
man. But she knew what she knew. " No one will ever 
guess," she thought, " no one ever can guess, what I've been 
through ! Talk as you like. I know, now." 

Gradually she had resumed cognizance of her household, 
perceiving that it was demoralized from top to bottom, and 
that when the time came to begin upon it she would not be 
able to settle where to begin, even supposing that the baby 
were not there to monopolize her attention. The task ap- 
palled her. Then she wanted to get up. Then she got up. 
What a blow to self-confidence ! She went back to bed like 
a little scared rabbit to its hole, glad, glad to be on the soft 
pillows again. She said : " Yet the time must come when I 
shall be downstairs, and walking about and meeting people, 
and cooking and superintending the millinery." Well, it did 
come except that she had to renounce the millinery to Miss 
Insull but it was not the same. No, different ! The baby 
pushed everything else on to another plane. He was a ter- 
rific intruder ; not one minute of her old daily life was left ; 
he made no compromise whatever. If she turned away her 
gaze from him he might pop off into eternity and leave her. 



184 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

And now she was calmly and sensibly giving him suck in 
presence of Miss Insull. She was used to his importance, to 
the fragility of his organism, to waking twice every night, to 
being fat. She was strong again. The convulsive twitching 
that for six months had worried her repose, had quite disap- 
peared. The state of being a mother was normal, and the 
baby was so normal that she could not conceive the house 
without him. 

All in ten months ! 

When the baby was installed in his cot for the night, she 
came downstairs and found Miss Insull and Samuel still work- 
ing, and harder than ever, but at addition sums now. She 
sat down, leaving the door open at the foot of the stairs. She 
had embroidery in hand : a cap. And while Miss Insull and 
Samuel combined pounds, shillings, and pence, whispering at 
great speed, she bent over the delicate, intimate, wasteful 
handiwork, drawing the needle with slow exactitude. Then 
she would raise her head and listen. 

" Excuse me," said Miss Insull, " I think I hear baby cry- 
ing." 

" And two are eight and three are eleven. He must cry," 
said Mr. Povey, rapidly, without looking up. 

The baby's parents did not make a practice of discussing 
their domestic existence even with Miss Insull ; but Con- 
stance had to justify herself as a mother. 

" I've made perfectly sure he's comfortable," said Con- 
stance. " He's only crying because he fancies he's neglected. 
And we think he can't begin too early to learn." 

" How right you are ! " said Miss Insull. " Two and carry 
three." 

That distant, feeble, querulous, pitiful cry continued obsti- 
nately. It continued for thirty minutes. Constance could 
not proceed with her work. The cry disintegrated her will, 
dissolved her hard sagacity. 

Without a word she crept upstairs, having carefully de- 
posed the cap on her rocking-chair. 

Mr. Povey hesitated a moment and then bounded up after 
her, startling Fan. He shut the door on Miss Insull, but Fan 
was too quick for him. He saw Constance with her hand on 
the bedroom door. 

" My dear girl," he protested, holding himself in. " Now 
what are you going to. do ? " 

"I'm just listening," said Constance. 

" Do be reasonable and come downstairs." 

He spoke in a low voice, scarcely masking his nervous irri- 
tation, and tiptoed along the corridor towards her and up 



CYRIL. 185 

the two steps past the gas-burner. Fan followed, wagging 
her tail expectant. 

" Suppose he's not well ? " Constance suggested. 

" Pshaw ! " Mr. Povey exclaimed contemptuously. " You 
remember what happened last night and what you said ! " 

They argued, subduing their tones to the false semblance 
of good-will, there in the closeness of the corridor. Fan, de- 
ceived, ceased to wag her tail and then trotted away. The 
baby's cry, behind the door, rose to a mysterious despairing 
howl, which had such an effect on Constance's heart that she 
could have walked through fire to reach the baby. But Mr. 
Povey's will held her. And she rebelled, angry, hurt, resent- 
ful. Commonsense, the ideal of mutual forbearance, had 
winged away from the excited pair. It would have assuredly 
ended in a quarrel, with Samuel glaring at her in black fury 
from the other side of a bottomless chasm, had not Miss 
Insull most surprisingly burst up the stairs. 

Mr. Povey turned to face her, swallowing his emotion. 

" A telegram ! " said Miss Insull. " The postmaster 
brought it down himself " 

" What ? Mr. Derry ? " asked Samuel, opening the tele- 
gram with an affectation of majesty. 

" Yes. He said it was too late for delivery by rights. But 
as it seemed very important . . ." 

Samuel scanned it and nodded gravely ; then gave it to 
his wife. Tears came into her eyes. 

"I'll get Cousin Daniel to drive me over at once," said 
Samuel, master of himself and of the situation. 

" Wouldn't it be better to hire ? " Constance suggested. 
She had a prejudice against Daniel. 

Mr. Povey shook his head. " He offered," he replied. " I 
can't refuse his offer." 

" Put your thick overcoat on, dear," said Constance, in a 
dream, descending with him. 

" I hope it isn't Miss Insull stopped. 

" Yes it is, Miss Insull," said Samuel deliberately. 

In less than a minute he was gone. 

Constance ran upstairs. But the cry had ceased. She 
turned the door-knob softly, slowly, and crept into the cham- 
ber. A night-light made large shadows among the heavy 
mahogany and the crimson, tasselled rep in the close-cur- 
tained room. And between the bed and the ottoman (on 
which lay Samuel's newly -bought family Bible) the cot loomed 
in the shadows. She picked up the night-light and stole 
round the bed. Yes, he had decided to fall asleep. The 
hazard of death afar off had just defeated his devilish obsti- 



186 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

nacy. Fate had bested him. How marvellously soft and 
delicate that tear-stained cheek ! How frail that tiny, tiny 
clenched hand ! In Constance grief and joy were mystically 
united. 



II. 

The drawing-room was full of visitors, in frocks of cere- 
mony. The old drawing-room, but newly and massively 
arranged with the finest Victorian furniture from dead Aunt 
Harriet's house at Axe ; two " Canterburys," a large book- 
case, a splendid scintillant table solid beyond lifting, intri- 
cately tortured chairs and armchairs ! The original furniture 
of the drawing-room was now down in the parlour, making 
it grand. All the house breathed opulence ; it was gorged 
with quiet, restrained expensiveness ; the least considerable 
objects, in the most modest corners, were what Mrs. Baines 
would have termed " good." Constance and Samuel had 
half of all Aunt Harriet's money, and half of Mrs. Baines's ; 
the other half was accumulating for a hypothetical Sophia, 
Mr. Critchlow being the trustee. The business continued to 
flourish. People knew that Samuel Povey was buying houses. 
Yet Samuel and Constance had not made friends ; they had 
not, in the Five Towns phrase, " branched out socially," 
though they had very meetly branched out on subscription 
lists. They kept themselves to themselves (emphasizing the 
preposition). These guests were not their guests ; they were 
the guests of Cyril. 

He had been named Samuel because Constance would have 
him named after his father, and Cyril because his father se- 
cretly despised the name of Samuel ; and he was called Cyril ; 
" Master Cyril," by Amy, definite successor to Maggie. His 
mother's thoughts were on Cyril as long as she was awake. 
His father, when not planning Cyril's welfare, was earning 
money whose unique object could be nothing but Cyril's wel- 
fare. Cyril was the pivot of the house ; every desire ended 
somewhere in Cyril. The shop existed now solely for him. 
And those houses that Samuel bought by private treaty, or 
with a shamefaced air at auctions somehow they were aimed 
at Cyril. Samuel and Constance had ceased to be self -justi- 
fying beings ; they never thought of themselves save as the 
parents of Cyril. 

They realized this by no means fully. Had they been 
accused of monomania they would have smiled the smile of 
people confident in their commonsense and their mental 



CYRIL. 187 

balance. Nevertheless, they were monomaniacs. Instinc- 
tively they concealed the fact as much as possible. They 
never admitted it even to themselves. Samuel, indeed, 
would often say : " That child is not everybody. That 
child must be kept in his place." Constance was always 
teaching him consideration for his father as the most impor- 
tant person in the household. Samuel was always teaching 
him consideration for his mother as the most important 
person in the household. Nothing was left undone to con- 
vince him that he was a cipher, a nonentity, who ought to 
be very glad to be alive. But he knew all about his im- 
portance. He knew that the entire town was his. He 
knew that his parents were deceiving themselves. Even 
when he was punished he well knew that it was because he 
was so important. He never imparted any portion of this 
knowledge to his parents ; a primeval wisdom prompted him 
to retain it strictly in his own bosom. 

He was four and a half years old, dark, like his father ; 
handsome like his aunt, and tall for his age ; not one of his 
features resembled a feature of his mother's, but sometimes 
he " had her look." From the capricious production of inar- 
ticulate sounds, and then a few monosyllables that described 
concrete things and obvious desires, he had gradually ac- 
quired an astonishing idiomatic command over the most 
difficult of Teutonic languages ; there was nothing that he 
could not say. He could walk and run, was full of exact 
knowledge about God, and entertained no doubt concerning 
the special partiality of a minor deity called Jesus towards 
himself. 

Now, this party was his mother's invention and scheme. 
His father, after flouting it, had said that if it was to be done 
at all, it should be done well, and had brought to the doing all 
his organizing skill. Cyril had accepted it at first merely 
accepted it ; but, as the day approached and the prepara- 
tions increased in magnitude, he had come to look on it with 
favour, then with enthusiasm. His father having taken him 
to Daniel Povey's opposite, to choose cakes, he had shown, 
by his solemn and fastidious waverings, how seriously he re- 
garded the affair. 

Of course it had to occur on a Thursday afternoon. The 
season was summer, suitable for pale and fragile toilettes. 
And the eight children who sat round Aunt Harriet's great 
table glittered like the sun. Not Constance's specially pro- 
vided napkins could hide that wealth and profusion of white 
lace and stitchery. Never in after-life are the genteel chil- 
dren of the Five Towns so richly clad as at the age of four or 



1 88 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

five years. Weeks of labour, thousands of cubic feet of gas, 
whole nights stolen from repose, eyesight, and general health, 
will disappear into the manufacture of a single frock that 
accidental jam may ruin in ten seconds. Thus it was in those 
old days ; and thus it is to-day. Cyril's guests ranged in 
years from four to six ; they were chiefly older than their 
host ; this was a pity, it impaired his importance ; but up 
to four years a child's sense of propriety, even of common 
decency, is altogether too unreliable for a respectable party. 

Round about the outskirts of the table were the elders, 
ladies the majority ; they also in their best, for they had to 
meet each other. Constance displayed a new dress, of crim- 
son silk ; after having mourned for her mother she had defi- 
nitely abandoned the black which, by reason of her duties 
in the shop, she had constantly worn from the age of sixteen 
to within a few months of Cyril's birth ; she never went into 
the shop now, except casually, on brief visits of inspection. 
She was still fat ; the destroyer of her figure sat at the head 
of the table. Samuel kept close to her ; he was the only 
male, until Mr. Critchlow astonishingly arrived ; among the 
company Mr. Critchlow had a grand-niece. Samuel, if not 
in his best, was certainly not in his everyday suit. With his 
large frilled shirt-front, and small black tie, and his little 
black beard and dark face over that, he looked very nervous 
and self-conscious. He had not the habit of entertaining. 
Nor had Constance ; but her benevolence ever bubbling up 
to the calm surface of her personality made self-consciousness 
impossible for her. Miss Insull was also present, in shop- 
black, " to help." Lastly there was Amy, now as the years 
passed slowly assuming the character of a faithful retainer, 
though she was only twenty-three. An ugly, abrupt, down- 
right girl, with convenient notions of pleasure ! For she 
would rise early and retire late in order to contrive an hour 
to go out with Master Cyril ; and to be allowed to put Master 
Cyril to bed was, really, her highest bliss. 

All these elders were continually inserting arms into the 
fringe of fluffy children that surrounded the heaped table ; 
removing dangerous spoons out of cups into saucers, replacing 
plates, passing cakes, spreading jam, whispering consolations, 
explanations, and sage counsel. Mr. Critchlow, snow-white 
now but unbent, remarked that there was " a pretty cackle," 
and he sniffed. Although the window was slightly open, 
the air was heavy with the natural human odour which young 
children transpire. More than one*mother, pressing her nose 
into a lacy mass, to whisper, inhaled that pleasant perfume 
with a voluptuous thrill. 



CYRIL. 189 

Cyril, while attending steadily to the demands of his body, 
was in a mood which approached -the ideal. Proud and 
radiant, he combined urbanity with a certain fine condescen- 
sion. His bright eyes, and his manner of scraping up jam 
with a spoon, said :. " I am the king of this party. This 
party is solely in my honour. I know that. We all know it. 
Still, I will pretend that we are equals, you and I." He 
talked about his picture-books to a young woman on his right 
named Jennie, aged four, pale, pretty, the belle in fact, and 
Mr. Critchlow's grand-niece. The boy's attractiveness was 
indisputable ; he could put on quite an aristocratic air. It 
was the most delicious sight to see them, Cyril and Jennie, so 
soft and delicate, so infantile on their piles of cushions and 
books, with their white socks and black shoes dangling far 
distant from the carpet ; and yet so old, so self-contained ! 
And they were merely an epitome of the whole table. The 
whole table was bathed in the charm and mystery of young 
years, of helpless fragility, gentle forms, timid elegance, un- 
shamed instincts, and waking souls. Constance and Samuel 
were very satisfied ; full of praise for other people's children, 
but with the reserve that of course Cyril was hors concours. 
They both really did believe, at that moment, that Cyril was, 
in some subtle way which they felt but could not define, 
superior to all other infants. 

Some one, some officious relative of a visitor, began to pass 
a certain cake which had brown walls, a roof of cocoa-nut 
icing, and a yellow body studded with crimson globules. Not 
a conspicuously gorgeous cake, not a cake to which a catholic 
child would be likely to attach particular importance ; a good, 
average cake ! Who could have guessed that it stood, in 
Cyril's esteem, as the cake of cakes ? He had insisted on his 
father buying it at Cousin Daniel's, and perhaps Samuel 
ought to have divined that for Cyril that cake was the gleam 
that an ardent spirit would follow through the wilderness. 
Samuel, however, was not a careful observer, and seriously 
lacked imagination. Constance knew only that Cyril had 
mentioned the cake once or twice. Now by the hazard of 
destiny that cake found much favour, helped into popularity 
as it was by the blundering officious relative who, not dream- 
ing what volcano she was treading on, urged its merits with 
simpering enthusiasm. One boy took two slices, a slice in 
each hand ; he happened to be the visitor of whom the cake 
distributor was a relative, and she protested ; she expressed 
the shock she suffered. Whereupon both Constance and 
Samuel sprang forward and swore with angelic smiles that 
nothing could be more perfect than the propriety of that dear 



igo THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

little fellow taking two slices of that cake. It was this hulla- 
balloo that drew Cyril's' attention to the evanescence of the 
cake of cakes. His face at once changed from calm pride to 
a dreadful anxiety. His eyes bulged out. His tiny mouth 
grew and grew, like a mouth in a nightmare. He was no 
longer human ; he was a cake-eating tiger being balked of his 
prey. Nobody noticed him. The officious fool of a woman 
persuaded Jennie to take the last slice of the cake, which wag 
quite a thin slice. 

Then every one simultaneously noticed Cyril, for he gave 
a yell- It was not the cry of a despairing soul who sees his 
beautiful iridescent dream shattered at his feet ; it was the 
cry of the strong, masterful spirit, furious. He turned upon 
Jennie, sobbing, and snatched at her cake. Unaccustomed 
to such behaviour from hosts, and being besides a haughty 
put-you-in-your.-place beauty of the future, Jennie defended 
her cake. After all, it was not she who had taken two slices 
at once. Cyril hit her in the eye, and then crammed most of 
the slice of cake into his enormous mouth. He could not 
swallow it, nor even masticate it, for his throat was rigid and 
tight. So the cake projected from his red lips, and big tears 
watered it. The most awful mess you can conceive ! Jennie 
wept loudly, and one or two others joined her in sympathy, 
but the rest went on eating tranquilly, unmoved by the 
horror which transfixed their elders. 

A host to snatch food from a guest ! A host to strike a 
guest ! A gentleman to strike a lady ! 

Constance whipped up Cyril from his chair and flew with 
him to his own room (once Samuel's), where she smacked him 
on the arm and told him he was a very, very naughty boy and 
that she didn't know what his father would say. She took 
the food out of his disgusting mouth or as much of it as she 
could get at and then she left him, on the bed. Miss Jennie 
was still in tears when, blushing scarlet, and trying to smile, 
Constance returned to the drawing-room. Jennie would not 
be appeased. Happily Jennie's mother (being about to pre- 
sent Jennie with a little brother she hoped) was not present. 
Miss Insull had promised to see Jennie home, and it was de- 
cided that she should go. Mr. Critchlow, in high sardonic 
spirits, said that he would go too ; the three departed to- 
gether, heavily charged with Constance's love and apologies. 
Then all pretended, and said loudly, that what had happened 
was naught, that such things were always happening at chil- 
dren's parties. And visitors' relatives asseverated that Cyril 
was a perfect darling and that really Mrs. Povey must 
not . 



CYRIL. 191 

But the attempt to keep up appearance was a failure. 

The Methuselah of visitors, a gaping girl of nearly eight 
years, walked across the room to where Constance was stand- 
ing, and said in a loud, confidential, fatuous voice : 

" Cyril has been a rude boy, hasn't he, Mrs. Povey ? " 

The clumsiness of children is sometimes tragic. 

Later, there was a trickling stream of fluffy bundles down 
the crooked stairs and through the parlour and so out into 
King Street. And Constance received many compliments 
and sundry appeals that darling Cyril should be for- 
given. 

" I thought you said that boy was in his bedroom," said 
Samuel to Constance, coming into the parlour when the last 
guest had gone. Each avoided the other's eyes. 

" Yes, isn't he ? " 

" No." 

" The little jockey ! " (" Jockey," an essay in the playful, 
towards making light of the jockey's sin !) "I expect he's 
been in search of Amy." 

She went to the top of the kitchen stairs and called out : 
" Amy, is Master Cyril down there ? " 

" Master Cyril ? No, mum. But he was in the parlour a 
bit ago, after the first and second lot had gone. I told him 
to go upstairs and be a good boy." 

Not for a few moments did the suspicion enter the minds 
of Samuel and Constance that Cyril might be missing, that 
the house might not contain Cyril. But having once entered, 
the suspicion became a certainty. Amy, cross-examined, 
burst into sudden tears, admitting that the side-door might 
have been open when, having sped " the second lot," she 
criminally left Cyril alone in the parlour in order to descend 
for an instant to her kitchen. Dusk was gathering. Amy 
saw the defenceless innocent wandering about all night in the 
deserted streets of a great city. A similar vision with precise 
details of canals, tramcar-wheels, and cellar-flaps, disturbed 
Constance. Samuel said that anyhow he could not have got 
far, that some one was bound to remark and recognize him, 
and restore him. " Yes, of course," thought sensible Con- 
stance. " But supposing " 

They all three searched the entire house again. Then, in 
the drawing-room (which was in a sad condition of anti- 
climax) Amy exclaimed : 

" Eh, master ! There's town-crier crossing the Square. 
Hadn't ye better have him cried ? " 

" Run out and stop him," Constance commanded. 

And Amy flew. 



102 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Samuel and the aged town-crier parleyed at the side door, 
the women in the background. 

" I canna' cry him without my bell," drawled the crier, 
stroking his shabby uniform. " My bell's at wum (home). 
I mun go and fetch my bell. Yo' write it down on a bit o' 
paper for me so as I can read it, and I'll foot off for my bell. 
Folk wouldna' listen to me if I hadna' gotten my bell." 

Thus was Cyril cried. 

" Amy," said Constance, when she and the girl were alone, 
" there's no use in you standing blubbering there. Get to 
work and clear up that drawing-room, do ! The child is sure 
to be found soon. Your master's gone out, too." 

Brave words ! Constance aided in the drawing-room and 
kitchen. Theirs was the woman's lot in a great crisis. Plates 
have always to be washed. 

Very shortly afterwards, Samuel Povey came into the 
kitchen by the underground passage which led past the two 
cellars to the yard and to Brougham Street. He was carrying 
in his arms an obscene black mass. This mass was Cyril, 
once white. 

Constance screamed. She was at liberty to give way to 
her feelings, because Amy happened to be upstairs. 

" Stand away ! " cried Mr. Povey. " He isn't fit to touch." 

And Mr. Povey made as if to pass directly onwards, igno- 
ring the mother. 

" Wherever did you find him ? " 

" I found him in the far cellar," said Mr. Povey, compelled 
to stop, after all. " He was down there with me yesterday, 
and it just occurred to me that he might have gone there 
again." 

" What ! All in the dark ? " 

" He'd lighted a candle, if you please ! I'd left a candle- 
stick and a box of matches handy because I hadn't finished 
that shelving." 

" Well ! " Constance murmured. " I can't think how ever 
he dared go there all alone ! " 

" Can't you ? " said Mr. Povey, cynically. " I can. He 
simply did it to frighten us." 

" Oh, Cyril ! " Constance admonished the child. " Cyril ! " 

The child showed no emotion. His face was an enigma. It 
might have hidden sullenness or mere callous indifference, or 
a perfect unconsciousness of sin. 

" Give him to me," said Constance. 

"I'll look after him this evening," said Samuel, grimly. 

" But you can't wash him," said Constance, her relief yield- 
ing to apprehension. 



CYRIL. 193 

" Why not ? " demanded Mr. Povey. And he moved off. 

" But Sam " 

" I'll look after him, I tell you ! " Mr. Povey repeated, 
threateningly. 

" But what are you going to do ? " Constance asked with 
fear. 

" Well," said Mr. Povey, " has this sort of thing not to be 
dealt with, or hasn't it ? " He departed upstairs. 

Constance overtook him at the door of Cyril's bedroom. 

Mr. Povey did not wait for her to speak. His eyes were 
blazing. 

" See here ! " he admonished her cruelly. " You get away 
downstairs, mother ! " 

And he disappeared into the bedroom with his vile and 
helpless victim. 

A moment later he popped his head out of the door. Con- 
stance was disobeying him. He stepped into the passage and 
shut the door so that Cyril should not hear. 

" Now please do as I tell you," he hissed at his wife. 
" Don't let's have a scene, please." 

She descended, slowly, weeping. And Mr. Povey retired 
again to the place of execution. 

Amy nearly fell on the top of Constance with a final tray of 
things from the drawing-room. And Constance had to tell 
the girl that Cyril was found. Somehow she could not resist 
the instinct to tell her also that the master had the affair in 
hand. Amy then wept. 

After about an hour Mr. Povey at last reappeared. Con- 
stance was trying to count silver teaspoons in the parlour. 

" He's in bed now," said Mr. Povey, with a magnificent 
attempt to be nonchalant. " You mustn't go near him." 

" But have you washed him ? " Constance whimpered. 

" I've washed him," replied the astonishing Mr. Povey. 

" What have you done to him ? " 

" I've punished him, of course," said Mr. Povey, like a god 
who is above human weaknesses. " What did you expect me 
to do ? Someone had to do it." 

Constance wiped her eyes with the edge of the white apron 
which she was wearing over her new silk dress. She sur- 
rendered ; she accepted the situation ; she made the best 
of it. And all the evening was spent in dismally and horribly 
pretending that their hearts were beating as one. Mr. Povey's 
elaborate, cheery kindliness was extremely painful. 

They went to bed, and in their bedroom Constance, as she 
stood close to Samuel, suddenly dropped the pretence, and 
with eyes and voice of anguish said : 

7 



194 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" You must let me look at him." 

They faced each other. For a brief instant Cyril did not 
exist for Constance. Samuel alone obsessed her, and yet 
Samuel seemed a strange, unknown man. It was in Con- 
stance's life one of those crises when the human soul seems 
to be on the very brink of mysterious and disconcerting 
cognitions, and then the wave recedes as inexplicably as it 
surged up. 

" Why, of course ! " said Mr. Povey, turning away lightly, 
as though to imply that she was making tragedies out of 
nothing. 

She gave an involuntary gesture of almost childish relief. 

Cyril slept calmly. It was a triumph for Mr. Povey. 

Constance could not sleep. As she lay darkly awake by 
her husband, her secret being seemed to be a-quiver with 
emotion. Not exactly sorrow ; not exactly joy ; an emotion 
more elemental than these ! A sensation of the intensity of 
her life in that hour ; troubling, anxious, yet not sad ! She 
said that Samuel was quite right, quite right. And then 
she said that the poor little thing wasn't yet five years old, 
and that it was monstrous. The two had to be reconciled. 
And they never could be reconciled. Always she would be 
between them, to reconcile them, and to be crushed by their 
impact. Always she would have to bear the burden of both 
of them. There could be no ease for her, no surcease from 
a tremendous preoccupation and responsibility. She could 
not change Samuel ; besides, he was right ! And though 
Cyril was not yet five, she felt that she could not change 
Cyril either. He was just as unchangeable as a growing 
plant. The thought of her mother and Sophia did not pre- 
sent itself to her ; she felt, however, somewhat as Mrs. 
Baines had felt on historic occasions ; but, being more softly 
kind, younger, and less chafed by destiny, she was conscious 
of no bitterness, conscious rather of a solemn blessedness. 



CHAPTER IV. 

CRIME. 
I. 

" Now, Master Cyril," Amy protested, " will you leave that 
fire alone ? It's not you that can mend my fires." 

A boy of nine, great and heavy for his years, with a full 
face and very short hair, bent over the smoking grate. It 
was about five minutes to eight on a chilly morning after 
Easter. Amy, hastily clad in blue, with a rough brown 
apron, was setting the breakfast table. The boy turned his 
head, still bending. 

" Shut up, Ame," he replied, smiling. Life being short, 
he usually called her Ame when they were alone together. 
" Or I'll catch you one in the eye with the poker." 

" You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Amy. 
" And you know your mother told you to wash your feet 
this morning, and you haven't done. Fine clothes is all 
very well, but " 

" Who says I haven't washed my feet ? " asked Cyril, 
guiltily. 

Amy's mention of fine clothes referred to the fact that he 
was that morning wearing his Sunday suit for the first time 
on a week-day. 

" I say you haven't," said Amy. 

She was more than three times his age still, but they had 
been treating each other as intellectual equals for years. 

" And how do you know ? " asked Cyril, tired of the fire. 

" I know/' said Amy. 

" Well, you just don't, then ! " said Cyril. " And what 
about your feet ? I should be sorry to see your feet, Ame." 

Amy was excusably annoyed. She tossed her head. " My 
feet are as clean as yours any day," she said. " And I shall 
tell your mother." 



ig6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

But he would not leave her feet alone, and there ensued 
one of those endless monotonous altercations on a single 
theme which occur so often between intellectual equals when 
one is a young son of the house and the other an established 
servant who adores him. Refined minds would have found 
the talk disgusting, but the sentiment of disgust seemed to 
be unknown to either of the wranglers. At last, when Amy 
by superior tactics had cornered him, Cyril said suddenly : 

" Oh, go to heU ! " 

Amy banged down the spoon for the bacon gravy. " Now 
I shall tell your mother. Mark my words, this time I shall 
tell your mother." 

Cyril felt that in truth he had gone rather far. He was 
perfectly sure that Amy would not tell his mother. And yet, 
supposing that by some freak of her nature she did ! The 
consequences would be unutterable ; the consequences would 
more than extinguish his private glory in the use of such a 
dashing word. So he laughed, a rather silly, giggling laugh, 
to reassure himself. 

" You daren't," he said. 

" Daren't I ? " she said grimly. " You'll see. / don't 
know where you learn ! It fair beats me* But it isn't Amy 
Bates as is going to be sworn at. As soon as ever your 
mother comes into this room ! " 

The door at the foot of the stairs creaked and Constance 
came into the room.. She was wearing a dress of magenta 
merino, and a gold chain descended from her neck over her 
rich bosom. She had scarcely aged in five years. It would 
have been surprising if she had altered much, for the years 
had passed over her head at an incredible rate. To her it 
appeared only a few months since Cyril's first and last party. 

" Are you all ready, my pet ? Let me look at you." 
Constance greeted the boy with her usual bright, soft energy. 

Cyril glanced at Amy, who averted her head, putting 
spoons into three saucers. 

" Yes, mother," he replied in a new voice. 

" Did you do what I told you ? " 

" Yes, mother," he said simply. 

" That's right." 

Amy made a faint noise with her lips, and departed. 

He was saved once more. He said to himself that never 
again would he permit his soul to be disturbed by any 
threat of " old Ame's." 

Constance's hand descended into her pocket and drew out 
a hard paper packet, which she clapped on to her son's head. 

" Oh, mother ! " He pretended that she had hurt him, 



CRIME. 197 

and then he opened the packet. It contained Congleton 
butterscotch, reputed a harmless sweetmeat. 

" Good ! " he cried, " good ! Oh ! Thanks, mother." 

" Now don't begin eating them at once." 

" Just one, mother." 

" No ! And how often have I told you to keep your feet 
off that fender. See how it's bent. And it's nobody but 
you." 

" Sorry." 

" It's no use being sorry if you persist in doing it." 

" Oh, mother, I had such a funny dream ! " 

They chatted until Amy came up the stairs with tea and 
bacon. The fire had developed from black to clear red. 

" Run and tell father that breakfast is ready." 

After a little delay a spectacled man of fifty, short and 
stoutish, with grey hair and a small beard half grey and half 
black, entered from the shop. Samuel had certainly very 
much aged, especially in his gestures, which, however, were 
still quick. He sat down at .once his wife and son were 
already seated and served the bacon with the rapid assur- 
ance of one who needs not to inquire about tastes and appe- 
tites. Not a word was said, except a brief grace by Samuel. 
But there was no restraint. Samuel had a mild, benignant 
air. Constance's eyes were a fountain of cheerfulness. The 
boy sat between them and ate steadily. 

Mysterious creature, this child, mysteriously growing and 
growing in the house ! To his mother he was a delicious 
joy at all times save when he disobeyed his father. But now 
for quite a considerable period there had been no serious col- 
lision. The boy, seemed to be acquiring virtue as well as 
sense. And really he was charming. So big, truly enormous 
(every one remarked on it), and yet graceful, lithe, with a 
smile that could ravish. And he was distinguished in his 
bearing. Without depreciating Samuel in her faithful heart, 
Constance saw plainly the singular differences between Samuel 
and the boy. Save that he was dark, and that his father's 
" dangerous look " came into those childish eyes occasionally, 
Cyril had now scarcely any obvious resemblance to his 
father. He was a Baines. This naturally deepened Con- 
stance's family pride. Yes, he was mysterious to Constance, 
though probably not more so than any other boy to any 
other parent. He was equally mysterious to Samuel, but 
otherwise Mr. Povey had learned to regard him in the light 
of a parcel which he was always attempting to wrap up in a 
piece of paper imperceptibly too small. When he success- 
fully covered the parcel at one corner it burst out at another, 



198 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

and this went on for ever, and he could never get the string 
on. Nevertheless, Mr. Povey had unabated confidence in 
his skill as a parcel-wrapper. The boy was strangely subtle 
at times, but then at times he was astoundingly ingenuous, 
and then his dodges would not deceive the dullest. Mr. 
Povey knew himself more than a match for his son. He 
was proud of him because he regarded him as not an ordinary 
boy ; he took it as a matter of course that his boy should not 
be an ordinary boy. He never, or very rarely, praised Cyril. 
Cyril thought of his father as a man who, in response to any 
request, always began by answering with a thoughtful, 
serious " No, I'm afraid not." 

" So you haven't lost your appetite ! " his mother com- 
mented. 

Cyril grinned. " Did you expect me to, mother ? " 

" Let me see," said Samuel, as if vaguely recalling an 
unimportant fact. " It's to-day you begin to go to school, 
isn't it ? " 

" I wish father wouldn't be such a chump ! " Cyril reflected. 
And, considering that this commencement of school (real 
school, not a girls' school, as once) had been the chief topic 
in the house for days, weeks ; considering that it now occu- 
pied and rilled all hearts, Cyril's reflection was excusable. 

" Now, there's one thing you must always remember, my 
boy," said Mr. Povey. " Promptness. Never be late either 
in going to school or in coming home. And in order that you 
may have no excuse " Mr. Povey pressed on the word 
" excuse," as though condemning Cyril in advance " here's 
something for you ! " He said the last words quickly, with 
a sort of modest shame. 

It was a silver watch and chain. 

Cyril was staggered. So also was Constance, for Mr. 
Povey could keep his own counsel. At long intervals he 
would prove, thus, that he was a mighty soul, capable of 
sublime deeds. The watch was the unique flowering of Mr. 
Povey's profound but harsh affection. It lay on the table 
like a miracle. This day was a great day, a supremely ex- 
citing day in Cyril's history, and not less so in the history of 
his parents. 

The watch killed its owner's appetite dead. 

Routine was ignored that morning. Father did not go 
back into the shop. At length the moment came when 
father put on his hat and overcoat to take Cyril, and Cyril's 
watch and satchel, to the Endowed School, which had 
quarters in the Wedgwood Institution close by. A solemn 
departure, and Cyril could not pretend by his demeanour that 



CRIME. 199 

it was not ! Constance desired to kiss him, but refrained. 
He would not have liked it. She watched them from the 
window. Cyril was nearly as tall as his father ; that is to 
say, not nearly as tall, but creeping up his father's shoulder. 
She felt that the eyes of the town must be on the pair. She 
was very happy, and nervous. 

At dinner-time a triumph seemed probable, and at tea- 
time, when Cyril came home under a mortar-board hat and 
with a satchel full of new books and a head full of new ideas, 
the triumph was actually and definitely achieved. He had 
been put into the third form, and he announced that he should 
soon be at the. top of it. He was enchanted with the life of 
school ; he liked the other boys, and it appeared that the 
other boys liked him. The fact was that, with a new silver 
watch and a packet of sweets, he had begun his new career 
in the most advantageous circumstances. Moreover, he 
possessed qualities which ensured success at school. He was 
big, and easy, with a captivating smile and a marked 
aptitude to learn those things which boys insist on teaching 
to their new comrades. He had muscle, a brave demeanour, 
and no conceit. 

During tea the parlour began to accustom itself to a new 
vocabulary, containing such words as "fellows," "kept in," 
" lines," " rot," " recess," " jolly." To some of these words the 
parents, especially Mr. Povey, had an instinct to object, but 
they could not object, somehow they did not seem to get an 
opportunity to object ; they were carried away on the tor- 
rent, and after all, their excitement and pleasure in the 
exceeding romantic novelty of existence were just as intense 
and nearly as ingenuous as their son's. 

He demonstrated that unless he was allowed to stay up 
later than aforetime he would not be able to do his home- 
work, and hence would not keep that place in the school to 
which his talents entitled him. Mr. Povey suggested, but 
only with half a heart, that he should get up earlier in the 
morning. The proposal fell flat. Everybody knew and ad- 
mitted that nothing save the scorpions of absolute necessity, 
or a tremendous occasion, such as that particular morning's, 
would drive Cyril from his bed until the smell of bacon rose 
to him from the kitchen. The parlour table was consecrated 
to his lessons. It became generally known that " Cyril was 
doing his lessons," His father scanned the new text-books 
while Cyril condescendingly explained to him that all others 
were superseded and worthless. His father contrived to 
maintain an air of preserving his mental equilibrium, but not 
his mother ; she gave it up, she who till that day had under 



200 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

his father's direction taught him nearly all that he knew, 
and Cyril passed above her into regions of knowledge where 
she made no pretence of being able to follow him. 

When the lessons were done, and Cyril had wiped his 
fingers on bits of blotting-paper, and his father had expressed 
qualified approval and had gone into the shop, Cyril said to 
his mother, with that delicious hesitation which overtook 
him sometimes : 
Mother." 
Well, my pet." 

I want you to do something for me." 
WeU, what is it ? " 
No, you must promise." 
I'll do it if I can." 

But you can. It isn't doing. It's not doing." 
Come, Cyril, out with it." 

I don't want you to come in and look at me after I'm 
asleep any more." 

" But, you silly boy, what difference can it make to you if 
you're asleep ? " 

" I don't want you to. It's like as if I was a baby. 
You'll have to stop doing it some day, and so you may as 
well stop now." 

It was thus he meant to turn his back on his youth. 
She smiled. She was incomprehensibly happy. She con- 
tinued to smile. 

" Now you'll promise, won't you, mother ? " 
She rapped him on the head with her thimble, lovingly. 
He took the gesture for consent. 
" You are a baby," she murmured. 

" Now I shall trust you," he said, ignoring this. " Say 
' honour bright.' ' 
" Honour bright." 

With what a long caress her eyes followed him, as he went 
up to bed on his great sturdy legs ! She was thankful that 
school had not contaminated her adorable innocent. If she 
could have been Ame for twenty-four hours, she perhaps 
would not have hesitated to put butter into his mouth lest 
it should melt. 

Mr. Povey and Constance talked late and low that night. 
They could neither of them sleep ; they had little desire to 
sleep. Constance's face said to her husband : " I've always 
stuck up for that boy, in spite of your severities, and you see 
how right I was ! " And Mr. Povey's face said : " You see 
now the brilliant success of my system. You see how my 
educational theories have justified themselves. Never been 



CRIME. 201 

to a school before, except that wretched little dame's school, 
and he goes practically straight to the top of the third form 
at nine years of age ! " They discussed his future. There 
could be no sign of lunacy in discussing his future up to a 
certain point, but each felt that to discuss the ultimate career 
of a child nine years old would not be the act of a sensible 
parent ; only foolish parents would be so fond. Yet each 
was dying to discuss his ultimate career. Constance yielded 
first to the temptation, as became her. Mr. Povey scoffed, 
and then, to humour Constance, yielded also. The matter 
was soon fairly on the carpet. Constance was relieved to 
find that Mr. Povey had no thought whatever of putting 
Cyril in the shop. No ; Mr. Povey did not desire to chop 
wood with a razor. Their son must and would ascend. 
Doctor ! Solicitor ! Barrister ! Not barrister barrister 
was fantastic. When they had argued for about half an 
hour Mr. Povey intimated suddenly that the conversation 
was unworthy of their practical commonsense, and went to 
sleep. 



II. 

Nobody really thought that this almost ideal condition of 
things would persist : an enterprise commenced in such 
glory must surely traverse periods of difficulty and even of 
temporary disaster. But no ! Cyril seemed to be made 
specially for school. Before Mr. Povey and Constance had 
quite accustomed themselves to being the parents of " a great 
lad," before Cyril had broken the glass of his miraculous watch 
more than once, the summer term had come to an end and 
there arrived the excitations of the prize-giving, as it was 
called ; for at that epoch the smaller schools had not found 
the effrontery to dub the breaking-up ceremony a " speech- 
day." This prize-giving furnished a particular joy to Mr. 
and Mrs. Povey. Although the prizes were notoriously few 
in number partly to add to their significance, and partly 
to diminish their cost (the foundation was poor) Cyril won a 
prize, a box of geometrical instruments of precision ; also 
he reached the top of his form, and was marked for promo- 
tion to the formidable Fourth. Samuel and Constance were 
bidden to the large hall of the Wedgwood Institution of a 
summer afternoon, and they saw the whole Board of Gover- 
nors raised on a rostrum, and in the middle, in front of what 
he referred to, in his aristocratic London accent, as "a 
beggarly array of rewards," the aged and celebrated Sir 



202 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Thomas Wilbraham Wilbraham, ex-M.P., last respectable 
member of his ancient line. And Sir Thomas gave the box 
of instruments to Cyril, and shook hands with him. And 
everybody was very well dressed. Samuel, who had never 
attended anything but a National School, recalled the 
simple rigours of his own boyhood, and swelled. For cer- 
tainly, of all the parents present he was among the richest. 
When, in the informal promiscuities which followed the prize 
distribution, Cyril joined his father and mother, sheepishly 
they duly did their best to make light of his achievements, 
and failed. The walls of the hall were covered with speci- 
mens of the pupils' skill, and the headmaster was observed 
to direct the attention of the mighty to a map done by Cyril. 
Of course it was a map of Ireland, Ireland being the map 
chosen by every map-drawing schoolboy who is free to choose. 
For a third-form boy it was considered a masterpiece. In 
the shading of mountains Cyiil was already a prodigy. Never, 
it was said, had the Macgillycuddy Reeks been indicated by 
a member of that school with a more amazing subtle refine- 
ment than by the young Povey. From a proper pride in 
themselves, from a proper fear lest they should be secretly 
accused of ostentation by other parents, Samuel and Con- 
stance did not go near that map. For the rest, they had lived 
with it for weeks, and Samuel (who, after all, was determined 
not to be dirt under his son's feet) had scratched a blot from 
it with a completeness that defied inquisitive examination. 

The fame of this map, added to the box of compasses and 
Cyril's own desire, pointed to an artistic career. Cyril had 
always drawn and daubed, and the drawing-master of the 
Endowed School, who was also headmaster of the Art School, 
had suggested that the youth should attend the Art School 
one night a week. Samuel, however, would not listen to the 
idea ; Cyril was too young. It is true that Cyril was too 
young, but Samuel's real objection was to Cyril's going out 
alone in the evening. On that he was adamant. 

The Governors had recently made the discovery that a 
sports department was necessary to a good school, and had 
rented a field for cricket, football, and rounders up at Bleak- 
ridge, an innovation which demonstrated that the town was 
moving with the rapid times. In June this field was open 
after school hours till eight p.m. as well as on Saturdays. 
The Squire learnt that Cyril had a talent for cricket, and 
Cyril wished to practise in the evenings, and was quite ready 
to bind himself with Bible oaths to rise at no matter what 
hour in the morning for the purpose of home lessons. He 
scarcely expected his father to say " Yes," as his father never 



CRIME. 203 

did say " Yes," but he was obliged to ask. Samuel nonplussed 
him by replying that on fine evenings, when he could spare 
time from the shop, he would go up to Bleakridge with his 
son. Cyril did not like this in the least. Still, it might be 
tried. One evening they went, actually, in the new steam- 
car which had superseded the old horse-cars, and which trav- 
elled all the way to Longshaw, a place that Cyril had only 
heard of. Samuel talked of the games played in the Five 
Towns in his day, of the Titanic sport of prison-bars, when 
the team of one "bank" went forth to the challenge of 
another " bank," preceded by a drum-and-fife band, and when, 
in the heat of the chase, a man might jump into the canal to 
escape his pursuer ; Samuel had never played at cricket. 

Samuel, with a very young grandson of Fan (deceased), 
sat in dignity on the grass and watched his cricketer for an 
hour and -a half (while Constance kept an eye on the shop 
and superintended its closing). Samuel then conducted 
Cyril home again. Two days later the father of his own 
accord offered to repeat the experience. Cyril refused. 
Disagreeable insinuations that he was a baby in arms had 
been made at school in the meantime. 

Nevertheless, in other directions Cyril sometimes surpris- 
ingly conquered. For instance, he came home one day with 
the information that a dog that was not a bull-terrier was not 
worth calling a dog. Fan's grandson had been carried off in 
earliest prime by a chicken-bone that had pierced his vitals, 
and Cyril did indeed persuade his father to buy a bull- 
terrier. The animal was a superlative of forbidding ugliness, 
but father and son vied with each other in stern critical praise 
of his surpassing beauty, and Constance, from good nature, 
joined in the pretence. He was called Lion, and the shop, 
after one or two untoward episodes, was absolutely closed to 
him. 

But the most striking of Cyril's successes had to do with 
the question of the annual holiday. He spoke of the sea 
soon after becoming a schoolboy. It appeared that his com- 
'plete ignorance of the sea prejudicially affected him at school. 
Further, he had always loved the sea ; he had drawn hun- 
dreds of three-masted ships with studding-sails set, and knew 
the difference between a brig and a brigantine. When he first 
said : " I say, mother, why can't we go to Llandudno instead 
of Buxton this year ? " his mother thought he was out of his 
senses. For the idea of going to any place other than 
Buxton was inconceivable ! Had they not always been to 
Buxton ? What would their landlady say ? How could they 
ever look her in the face again ? Besides . . . well . . . ! 



204 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

They went to Llandudno, rather scared, and hardly knowing 
how the change had come about. But they went. And it 
was the force of Cyril's will, Cyril the theoretic cipher, that 
took them. 



III. 

The removal of the Endowed School to more commodious 
premises in the shape of Shawport Hall, an ancient mansion 
with fifty rooms and five acres of land round about it, was 
not a change that quite pleased Samuel or Constance. 
They admitted the hygienic advantages, but Shawport Hall 
was three-quarters of a mile distant from St. Luke's Square 
in the hollow that separates Bursley from its suburb of Hill- 
port ; whereas the Wedgwood Institution was. scarcely a 
minute away. It was as if Cyril, when he set off to Shawport 
Hall of a morning, passed out of their sphere of influence. 
He was leagues off, doing they knew not what. Further, 
his dinner-hour was cut short by the extra time needed for the 
journey to and fro, and he arrived late for tea ; it may be 
said that he often arrived very late for tea ; the whole 
machinery of the meal was disturbed. These matters seemed 
to Samuel and Constance to be of tremendous import, seemed 
to threaten the very foundations of existence. Then they 
grew accustomed to the new order, and wondered some- 
times, when they passed the Wedgwood Institution and the 
insalubrious Cock Yard once sole playground of the boys 
that the school could ever have " managed " in the narrow 
quarters once allotted to it. 

Cyril, though constantly successful at school, a rising man, 
an infallible bringer-home of excellent reports, and a regular 
taker of prizes, became gradually less satisfactory in the 
house. He was " kept in " occasionally, and although his 
father pretended to hold that to be kept in was to slur the 
honour of a spotless family, Cyril continued to be kept in ; 
a hardened sinner, lost to shame. But this was not the worst. 
The worst undoubtedly was that Cyril was " getting rough." 
No definite accusation could be laid against him ; the offence 
was general, vague, everlasting ; it was in all he did and said, 
in every gesture and movement. He shouted, whistled, sang, 
stamped, stumbled, lunged. He omitted such empty rites as 
saying " Yes " or " Please," and wiping his nose. He replied 
gruffly and nonchalantly to polite questions, or he didn't 
reply until the questions were repeated, and even then with a 
" lost " air that was not genuine. His shoe-laces were a sad 



CRIME. 205 

sight, and his finger-nails no sight at all for a decent woman ; 
his hair was as rough as his conduct ; hardly at the pistol's 
point could he be forced to put oil on it. In brief, he was no 
longer the nice boy that he used to be. He had unmistakably 
deteriorated. Grievous ! But what can you expect when 
your boy is obliged, month after month and year after year, to 
associate with other boys ? After all, he was a good boy, said 
Constance, often to herself and now and then to Samuel. 
For Constance, his charm was eternally renewed. His smile, 
his frequent ingenuousness, his funny self-conscious gesture 
when he wanted to " get round " her these characteristics 
remained ; and his pure heart remained ; she could read that 
in his eyes. Samuel was inimical to his tastes for sports and 
his triumphs therein. But Constance had pride in all that. 
She liked to feel him and to gaze at him, and to smell that 
faint, uncleanly odour of sweat that hung in his clothes. 

In this condition he reached the advanced age of thirteen. 
And his parents, who despite their notion of themselves as 
wide-awake parents were a simple pair, never suspected that 
his heart, conceived to be still pure, had become a crawling, 
horrible mass of corruption. 

One day the head-master called at the shop. Now, to see a 
head-master walking about the town during school-hours is a 
startling spectacle, and is apt to give you the same uncanny 
sensation as when, alone in a room, you think you see some- 
thing move which ought not to move. Mr. Povey was startled. 
Mr. Povey had a thumping within his breast as he rubbed his 
hands and drew the head-master to the private corner where 
his desk was. " What can I do for you to-day ? " he almost 
said to the head-master. But he did not say it. The boot 
was emphatically not on that leg. The head-master talked 
to Mr. Povey in tones carefully low, for about a quarter of an 
hour, and then he closed the interview. Mr. Povey escorted 
him across the shop and the head-master said with ordinary 
loudness : "Of course it's nothing. But my experience is 
that it's just as well to be on the safe side, and I thought I'd 
tell you. Forewarned is forearmed. I have other parents to 
see." They shook hands at the door. Then Mr. Povey 
stepped out on to the pavement and, in front of the whole 
Square, detained an unwilling head-master for quite another 
minute. 

His face was deeply flushed as he returned into the shop. 
The assistants bent closer over their work. He did not in- 
stantly rush into the parlour and communicate with Con- 
stance. He had dropped into a way of conducting many 
operations by his own unaided brain. His confidence in his 



206 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

skill had increased with years. Further, at the back of his 
mind, there had established itself a vision of Mr. Povey as the 
seat of government and of Constance and Cyril as a sort of 
permanent opposition. He would not have admitted that 
he saw such a vision, for he was utterly loyal to his wife ; 
but it was there. This unconfessed vision was one of several 
causes which had contributed to intensify his inherent tend- 
ency towards Machiavellianism and secretiveness. He said 
nothing to Constance, nothing to Cyril ; but, happening to 
encounter Amy in the showroom, he was inspired to inter- 
rogate her sharply. The result was that they descended to 
the cellar together, Amy weeping. Amy was commanded to 
hold her tongue. And as she went in mortal fear of Mr. Povey 
she did hold her tongue. 

Nothing occurred for several days. And then one morning 
it was Constance's birthday : children are nearly always 
horribly unlucky in their choice of days for sin Mr. Povey, 
having executed mysterious movements in the shop after 
Cyril's departure to school, jammed his hat on his head and 
ran forth in pursuit of Cyril, whom he intercepted with two 
other boys, at the corner of Oldcastle Street and Acre Passage. 

Cyril stood as if turned into salt. " Come back home*! " 
said Mr. Povey, grimly ; and for the sake of the other boys : 
" Please." 

" But I shall be late for school, father," Cyril weakly urged. 

" Never mind." 

They passed through the shop together, causing a terrific 
concealed emotion, and then they did violence to Constance 
by appearing in the parlour. Constance was engaged in 
cutting straws and ribbons to make a straw-frame for a 
water-colour drawing of a moss-rose which her pure-hearted 
son had given her as a birthday present. 

" Why what ? " she exclaimed. She said no more at 
the moment because she was sure, from the faces of her men, 
that the time was big with fearful events. 

" Take your satchel off," Mr. Povey ordered coldly. " And 
your mortar-board,' he added with a peculiar intonation, as 
if glad thus to prove that Cyril was one of those rude boys 
who have to be told to take their hats off in a room. 

" Whatever 's amiss ? " Constance murmured under her 
breath, as Cyril obeyed the command. " Whatever's 
amiss ? " 

Mr. Povey made no immediate answer. He was in charge 
of these proceedings, and was very anxious to conduct them 
with dignity and with complete effectiveness. Little fat 
man over $fty, with a wizened face, grey-haired and grey- 



CRIME. 207 

bearded, he was as nervous as a youth. His heart beat furi- 
ously. And Constance, the portly matron who would never 
see forty again, was just as nervous as a girl. Cyril had gone 
very white. All three felt physically sick. 

" What money have you got in your pockets ? " Mr. Povey 
demanded, as a commencement. 

Cyril, who had had no opportunity to prepare his case, 
offered no reply. 

" You heard what I said," Mr. Povey thundered. 

" I've got three-halfpence," Cyril murmured glumly, look- 
ing down at the floor. His lower lip seemed to hang precari- 
ously away from his gums. 

" Where did you get that from ? " 

" It's part of what mother gave me," said the boy. 

" I did give him a threepenny bit last week," Constance 
put in guiltily. " It was a long time since he had had any 
money." 

" If you gave it him, that's enough," said Mr. Povey 
quickly, and to the boy : " That's all you've got ? " 

" Yes, father," said the boy. 

" You're sure ? " 

" Yes, father." 

Cyril was playing a hazardous game for the highest stakes, 
and under grave disadvantages ; and he acted for the best. 
He guarded his own interests as well as he could. 

Mr. Povey found himself obliged to take a serious risk. 
" Empty your pockets, then." 

, Cyril, perceiving that he had lost that particular game, 
emptied his pockets. 

" Cyril," said Constance, " how often have I told you to 
change your handkerchiefs oftener ! Just look at this ! " 

Astonishing creature ! She was in the seventh hell of sick 
apprehension, and yet she said that ! 

After the handkerchief emerged the common schoolboy 
stock of articles useful and magic, and then, last, a silver 
florin ! 

Mr. Povey felt relief. 

" Oh, Cyril ! " whimpered Constance. 

" Give it your mother," said Mr. Povey. 

The boy stepped forward awkwardly, and Constance, weep- 
ing, took the coin. 

" Please look at it, mother," said Mr. Povey. " And tell 
me if there's a cross marked on it." 

Constance's tears blurred the coin. She had to wipe her 
eyes. 

" Yes," she whispered faintly. " There's something on it." 



208 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" I thought so," said Mr. Povey. " Where did you steal 
it from ? " he demanded. 

' Out of the till," answered Cyril. 

' Have you ever stolen anything out of the till before ? " 

' Yes." 

' Yes, what." 

' Yes, father." 

' Take your hands out of your pockets and stand up 
straight, if you can. How often ? " 

' I I don't know, father." 

' I blame myself," said Mr. Povey, frankly. " I blame 
myself. The till ought always to be locked. All tills ought 
always to be locked. But we felt we could trust the assist- 
ants. If anybody had told me that I ought not to trust you, 
if anybody had told me that my own son would be the thief, 
I should have well, I don't know what I should have 
said ! " 

Mr. Povey was quite justified in blaming himself. The 
fact was that the functioning of that till was a patriarchal 
survival, which he ought to have revolutionized, but which it 
had never occurred to him to revolutionize, so accustomed to 
it was he. In the time of John Baines, the till, with its three 
bowls, two for silver and one for copper (gold had never been 
put into it), was invariably unlocked. The person in charge 
of the shop took change from it for the assistants, or tempo- 
rarily authorized an assistant to do so. Gold was kept in a 
small linen bag in a locked drawer of the desk. The contents 
of the till were never checked by any system of book-keeping, 
as there was no system of book-keeping ; when all trans- 
actions, whether in payment or receipt, are in cash the 
Baineses never owed a penny save the quarterly wholesale 
accounts, which were discharged instantly to the travellers 
a system of book-keeping is not indispensable. The till was 
situate immediately at the entrance to the shop from the 
house ; it was in the darkest part of the shop, and the unfor- 
tunate Cyril had to pass it every day on his way to school. 
The thing was a perfect device for the manufacture of young 
criminals. 

" And how have you been spending this money ? " Mr. 
Povey inquired. 

Cyril's hands slipped into his pockets again. Then, noti- 
cing the lapse, he dragged them out. 

" Sweets," said he. 

" Anything else ? " 

" Sweets and things." 

" Oh ! " said Mr. Povey. " Well, now you can go down 



CRIME. 209 

into the cinder-cellar and bring up here all the things there 
are in that little box in the corner. Off you go ! " 

And off went Cyril. He had to swagger through the 
kitchen. 

" What did I tell you, Master Cyril ? " Amy unwisely asked 
of him. " You've copped it finely this time." 

" Copped " was a word which she had learned from Cyril. 

".Go on, you old bitch ! " Cyril growled. 

As he returned from the cellar, Amy said angrily : 

" I told you I should tell your father the next time you 
called me that, and I shall. You mark my words." 

" Cant ! cant ! " he retorted. " Do you think I don't 
know who's been canting ? Cant ! cant ! " 

Upstairs in the parlour Samuel was explaining the matter 
to his wife. There had been a perfect epidemic of smoking 
in the school. The head-master had discovered it and, he 
hoped, stamped it out. What had disturbed the head-master 
far more than the smoking was the fact that a few boys had 
been found to possess somewhat costly pipes, cigar-holders, 
or cigarette-holders. The head-master, wily, had not con- 
fiscated these articles ; he had merely informed the parents 
f concerned. In his opinion the articles came from one single 
'source, a generous thief ; he left the parents to ascertain 
which of them had brought a thief into the world. 

Further information Mr. Povey had culled from Amy, and 
there could remain no doubt that Cyril had been providing 
his chums with the utensils of smoking, the till supplying the 
means. He had told Amy that the things which he secreted 
in the cellar had been presented to him by blood-brothers. 
But Mr. Povey did not believe that. Anyhow, he had marked 
every silver coin in the till for three nights, and had watched 
the till in the mornings from behind the merino-pile ; and the 
florin on the parlour-table spoke of his success as a detective. 

Constance felt guilty on behalf of Cyril. As Mr. Povey 
outlined his case she could not free herself from an entirely 
irrational sensation of sin ; at any rate of special responsi- 
bility. Cyril seemed to be her boy and not Samuel's boy 
at all. She avoided her husband's glance. This was very 
odd. 

Then Cyril returned, and his parents composed their faces 
and he deposited, next to the florin, a sham meerschaum pipe 
in a case, a tobacco-pouch, a cigar of which one end had been 
charred but the other not cut, and a half-empty packet of 
cigarettes without a label. 

Nothing could be hid from Mr. Povey. The details were 
distressing. 



2io THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" So Cyril is a liar and a thief, to say nothing of this smok- 
ing ! " Mr. Povey concluded. 

He spoke as if Cyril had invented strange and monstrous 
sins. But deep down in his heart a little voice was telling 
him, as regards the smoking, that he had set the example. 
Mr. Baines had never smoked. Mr. Critchlow never smoked. 
Only men like Daniel smoked. 

Thus far Mr. Povey had conducted the proceedings to his 
own satisfaction. He had proved the crime. He had made 
Cyril confess. The whole affair lay revealed. Well what 
next ? Cyril ought to have dissolved in repentance ; some- 
thing dramatic ought to have occurred. But Cyril simply 
stood with hanging, sulky head, and gave no sign of proper 
feeling. 

Mr. Povey considered that, until something did happen, he 
must improve the occasion. 

" Here we have trade getting worse every day," said he 
(it was true), " and you are robbing your parents to make a 
beast of yourself, and corrupting your companions ! I won- 
der your mother never smelt you ! " 

" I never dreamt of such a thing 1 " said Constance, 
grievously. 

Besides, a young man clever enough to rob a till is usually 
clever enough to find out that the secret of safety in smoking 
is to use cachous and not to keep the stuff in your pockets a 
minute longer than you can help. 

" There's no knowing how much money you have stolen," 
said Mr. Povey. " A thief ! " 

If Cyril had stolen cakes, jam, string, cigars, Mr. Povey 
would never have said " thief " as he did say it. But money ! 
Money was different. And a till was not a cupboard or a 
larder. A till was a till. Cyril had struck at the very basis 
of society. 

" And on your mother's birthday ! " Mr. Povey said 
further. 

" There's one thing I can do ! " he said. " I can burn all 
this. Built on lies ! How dared you ? " 

And he pitched into the fire not the apparatus of crime, 
but the water-colour drawing of a moss-rose and the straws 
and the blue ribbon for bows at the corners. 

" How dared you ? " he repeated. 

" You never gave me any money," Cyril muttered. 

He thought the marking of coins a mean trick, and the 
dragging-in of bad trade and his mother's birthday roused a 
familiar devil that usually slept quietly in his breast. 

" What's that you say ? " Mr. Povey almost shouted. 



CRIME. 211 

" You never gave me any money," the devil repeated in a 
louder tone than Cyril had employed. 

(It was true. But Cyril '' had only to ask," and he would 
have received all that was good for him.) 

Mr. Povey sprang up. Mr. Povey also had a devil. The 
two devils gazed at each other for an instant ; and then, 
noticing that Cyril's head was above Mr. Povey's, the elder 
devil controlled itself. Mr. Povey had suddenly had as much 
drama as he wanted. 

" Get away to bed ! " said he with dignity. 

Cyril went, defiantly. 

" He's to have nothing but bread and water, mother," Mr. 
Povey finished. He was, on the whole, pleased with himself. 

Later in the day Constance reported, tearfully, that she had 
been up to Cyril and that Cyril had wep. Which was to 
Cyril's credit. But all felt that life could never be the same 
again. During the remainder of existence this unspeakable 
horror would lift its obscene form between them. Constance 
had never been so unhappy. Occasionally, when by herself 
she would rebel for a brief moment, as one rebels in secret 
against a mummery which one is obliged to treat seriously. 
" After all," she would whisper, " suppose, he has taken a few 
shillings out of the till ! What then ? What does it matter ? " 
But these moods of moral insurrection against society and 
Mr. Povey were very transitory. They were come and gone 
in a flash. 



CHAPTER V. 

ANOTHER CRIME. 
I. 

ONE night it was late in the afternoon of the same year, 
about six months after the tragedy of the florin Samuel 
Povey was wakened up by a hand on his shoulder and a voice 
that whispered : " Father ! " 

The thief and the liar was standing in his night-shirt by the 
bed. Samuel's sleepy eyes could just descry him in the 
thick gloom. 

" What what ? " questioned the father, gradually coming 
to consciousness. " What are you doing there ? " 

" I didn't want to wake mother up," the boy whispered. 
" There's someone been throwing dirt or something at our 
windows, and has been for a long time." 

" Eh, what ? " 

Samuel stared at the dim form of the thief and liar. The 
boy was tall, not in the least like a little boy ; and yet, then, 
he seemed to his father as quite a little boy, a little " thing " 
in a night-shirt, with childish gestures and childish inflec- 
tions, and a childish, delicious, quaint anxiety not to disturb 
his mother, who had lately been deprived of sleep owing 
to an illness of Amy's which had demanded nursing. His 
father had not so perceived him for years. In that instant 
the conviction that Cyril was permanently unfit for human 
society finally expired in the father's mind. Time had 
already weakened it very considerably. The decision that, 
be Cyril what he might, the summer holiday must be taken 
as usual, had dealt it a fearful blow. And yet, though 
Samuel and Constance had grown so accustomed to the com- 
panionship of a criminal that they frequently lost memory 
of his guilt for long periods, nevertheless the convention 
of his leprosy had more or less persisted with Samuel until 



ANOTHER CRIME. 213 

that moment : when it vanished with strange suddenness, 
to Samuel's conscious relief. 

There was a rain of pellets on the window. 

" Hear that ? " demanded Cyril, whispering dramatically. 
" And it's been like that on my window too." 

Samuel arose. " Go back to your room ! " he ordered in 
the same dramatic whisper ; but not as father to son 
rather as conspirator to conspirator. 

Constance slept. They could hear her regular breathing. 

Barefooted, the elderly gowned figure followed the younger, 
and one after the other they creaked down the two steps 
which separated Cyril's room from his parents'. 

" Shut the door quietly ! " said Samuel. 

Cyril obeyed. 

And then, having lighted Cyril's gas, Samuel drew the blind, 
unfastened the catch of the window, and began to open it 
with many precautions of silence. All the sashes in that 
house were difficult to manage. Cyril stood close to his father, 
shivering without knowing that he shivered, astonished only 
that his father had not told him to get back into bed at once. 
It was, beyond doubt, the proudest hour of Cyril's career. 
In addition to the mysterious circumstances of the night, 
there was in the situation that thrill which always communi- 
cates itself to a father and son when they are afoot together 
upon an enterprise unsuspected by the woman from whom 
their lives have no secrets. 

Samuel put his head out of the window. 

A man was standing there. 

" That you, Samuel ? " The voice came low. 

" Yes," replied Samuel, cautiously. " It's not Cousin 
Daniel, is it ? " 

" I want ye," said Daniel Povey, curtly. 

Samuel paused. " I'll be down in a minute," he said. 

Cyril at length received the command to get back into bed 
at once. 

" Whatever's up, father ? " he asked joyously. 

" I don't know. I must put some things on and go and 
see." 

He shut down the window on all the breezes that were 
pouring into the room. 

" Now quick, before I turn the gas out ! " he admonished, 
his hand on the gas-tap. 

" You'll tell me in the morning, won't you, father ? " 

" Yes," said Mr. Povey, conquering his habitual impulse 
to say " No." 

He crept back to the large bedroom to grope for clothes. 



214 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

When, having descended to the parlour and lighted the 
gas there, he opened the side-door, expecting to let Cousin 
Daniel in, there was no sign of Cousin Daniel. Presently he 
saw a figure standing at the corner of the Square. He 
whistled Samuel had a singular faculty of whistling, he 
envy of his son and Daniel beckoned to him. He nearly 
extinguished the gas and then ran out, hatless. He was 
wearing most of his clothes, except his linen collar and neck- 
tie, and the collar of his coat was turned up. 

Daniel advanced before him, without waiting, into the 
confectioner's shop opposite. Being part of the most 
modern building in the Square, Daniel's shop was provided 
with the new roll-down iron shutter, by means 'of which you 
closed your establishment with a motion similar to the wind- 
ing of a large clock, instead of putting up twenty separate 
shutters one by one as in the sixteenth century. The little 
portal in the vast sheet of armour was ajar, and Daniel had 
passed into the gloom beyond. At the same moment a 
policeman came along on his beat, cutting off Mr. Povey 
from Daniel. 

" Good-night, officer ! Brrr ! " said Mr. Povey, gathering 
his dignity about him and holding himself as though it was 
part of his normal habit to take exercise bareheaded and 
collarless in St. Luke's Square on cold November nights. 
He behaved so because, if Daniel had desired the services 
of a policeman, Daniel would of course have spoken to this 
one. 

" Goo' night, sir," said the policeman, after recognizing 
him. 

" What time is it ? " asked Samuel, bold. 

" A quarter-past one, sir." 

The policeman, leaving Samuel at the little open door, 
went forward across the lamplit Square, and Samuel entered 
his cousin's shop. 

Daniel Povey was standing behind the door, and as Samuel 
came in he shut the door with a startling sudden movement. 
Save for the twinkle of gas, the shop was in darkness. It 
had the empty appearance which a well-managed confec- 
tioner's and baker's always has at night. The large brass 
scales near the flour-bins glinted ; and the glass cake-stands, 
with scarce a tart among them, also caught the faint flare 
of the gas. 

" What's the matter, Daniel ? Anything wrong ? " 
Samuel asked, feeling boyish as he usually did in the pres- 
ence of Daniel. 

The well-favoured white-haired man seized him with one 



ANOTHER CRIME. 215 

hand by the shoulder in a grip that convicted Samuel of 
frailty. 

" Look here, Sam'l," said he in his low, pleasant voice, 
somewhat altered by excitement. " You know as my wife 
drinks ? " 

He stared defiantly at Samuel. . 

" N no," said Samuel. " That is no one's ever said " 

This was true. He did not know that Mrs. Daniel Povey, 
at the age of fifty, had definitely taken to drink. There had 
been rumours that she enjoyed a glass with too much gusto ; 
but " drinks " meant more than that. 

" She drinks," Daniel Povey continued. " And has done 
this last two year ! " 

"I'm very sorry to hear it," said Samuel, tremendously 
shocked by this brutal rending of the cloak of decency. 

Always, everybody had feigned to Daniel, and Daniel had 
feigned to everybody, that his wife was as other wives. And 
now the man himself had torn to pieces in a moment the veil 
of thirty years' weaving. 

" And if that was the worst ! " Daniel murmured reflec- 
tively, loosening his grip. 

Samuel was excessively disturbed. His cousin was hint- 
ing at matters which he himself, at any rate, had never 
hinted at even to Constance, so abhorrent were they ; 
matters unutterable, which hung like clouds in the social 
atmosphere of the town, and of which at rare intervals one 
conveyed one's cognizance, not by words, but by something 
scarce perceptible in a glance, an accent. Not often is a 
town such as Bursley starred with such a woman as Mrs. 
Daniel Povey. 

" But what's wrong ? " Samuel asked, trying to be firm. 

And, " What is wrong ? " he asked himself. " What does 
all this mean, at after one o'clock in the morning ? " 

" Look here, Sam'l," Daniel recommenced, seizing his 
shoulder again. " I went to Liverpool corn market to-day, 
and missed the last train, so I came by mail from Crewe. 
And what do I find ? I find Dick sitting on the stairs in the 
dark pretty nigh naked." 

" Sitting on the stairs ? Dick ? " 

" Ay ! This is what I come home to ! " 

" But " 

" Hold on ! He's been in bed a couple of days with a 
feverish cold, caught through lying in damp sheets as his 
mother had forgot to air. She brings him no supper to- 
night. He calls out. No answer. Then he gets up to 
go down-stairs and see what's happened, and he slips on th' 



216 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

stairs and breaks his knee, or puts it out or summat. Sat 
there hours, seemingly ! Couldn't walk neither up nor 
down." 

" And was your wife was Mrs. ? " 

" Dead drunk in the parlour, Sam'l." ' 

" But the servant ? " 

" Servant ! " Daniel Povey laughed. " We can't keep 
our servants. They won't stay. You know that." 

He did. Mrs. Daniel Povey's domestic methods and 
idiosyncrasies could at any rate be freely discussed, and 
they were. 

" And what have you done ? " 

" Done ? Why, I picked him up in my arms and carried 
him upstairs again. And a fine job I had too ! Here ! 
Come here ! " 

Daniel strode impulsively across the shop the counterflap 
was up and opened a door at the back. Samuel followed. 
Never before had he penetrated so far into his cousin's 
secrets. On the left, within the doorway, were the stairs, 
dark ; on the right a shut door ; and in front an open door 
giving on to a yard. At the extremity of the yard he dis- 
cerned a building, vaguely lit, and naked figures strangely 
moving in it. 

" What's that ? Who's there ? " he asked sharply. 

" That's the bakehouse," Daniel replied, as if surprised at 
such a question. " It's one of their long nights." 

Never, during the brief remainder of his life, did Samuel 
eat a mouthful of common bread without recalling that mid- 
night apparition. He had lived for half a century, and 
thoughtlessly eaten bread as though loaves grew ready-made 
on trees. 

" Listen ! " Daniel commanded him. 

He cocked his ear, and caught a feeble, complaining wail 
from an upper floor. 

" That's Dick ! That is ! " said Daniel Povey. 

It sounded more like the distress of a child than of an 
adventurous young man of twenty-four or so. 

" But is he in pain ? Haven't you fetched the doctor ? " 

" Not yet," answered Daniel, with a vacant stare. 

Samuel gazed at him closely for a second. And Daniel 
seemed to him very old and helpless and pathetic, a man 
unequal to the situation in which he found himself ; and yet, 
despite the dignified snow of his age, wistfully boyish. Samuel 
thought swiftly : " This has been too much for him. He's 
almost out of his mind. That's the explanation. Some 
one's got to take charge, and I must." And all the courageous 



ANOTHER CRIME. . 217 

resolution of his character braced itself to the crisis. Being 
without a collar, being in slippers, and his suspenders im- 
perfectly fastened anyhow, these things seemed to be a part 
of the crisis. 

"I'll just run upstairs and have a look at him," said 
Samuel, in a matter-of-fact tone. 

Daniel did not reply. 

There was a glimmer at the top of the stairs. Samuel 
mounted, found the gas-jet, and turned it on full. A dingy, 
dirty, untidy passage was revealed, the very antechamber 
of discomfort. Guided by the moans, Samuel entered a bed- 
room, which was in a shameful condition of neglect, and 
lighted only by a nearly expired candle. Was it possible 
that a house-mistress could so lose her self-respect ? Samuel 
thought of his own abode, meticulously and impeccably 
" kept," and a hard bitterness against Mrs. Daniel surged 
up in his soul. 

" Is that you, doctor ? " said a voice from the bed ; the 
moans ceased. 

Samuel raised the candle. 

Dick lay there, his face, on which was a beard of several 
days' growth, distorted by anguish, sweating ; his tousled 
brown hair was limp with sweat. 

" Where the hell's the doctor ? " the young man demanded 
brusquely. Evidently he had no curiosity about Samuel's 
presence ; the one thing that struck him was that Samuel 
was not the doctor. 

" He's coming, he's coming," said Samuel, soothingly. 

" Well, if he isn't here soon I shall be damn well dead," 
said Dick, in feeble resentful anger. " I can tell you that." 

Samuel deposited the candle and ran downstairs. " I say, 
Daniel," he said, roused and hot, " this is really ridiculous. 
Why on earth didn't you fetch the doctor while you were 
waiting for me ? Where's the missis ? " 

Daniel Povey was slowly emptying grains of Indian corn 
out of his jacket-pocket into one of the big receptacles behind 
the counter on the baker's side of the shop. He had pro- 
visioned himself with Indian corn as ammunition for Samuel's 
bedroom window ; he was now returning the surplus. 

" Are ye going for Harrop ? " he questioned hesitatingly. 

" Why, of course ! " Samuel exclaimed. " Where's the 
missis ? " 

" Happen you'd better go and have a look at her," said 
Daniel Povey. "She's in th' parlour." 

He preceded Samuel to the shut door on the right. When 
he opened it the parlour appeared in full illumination. 



2i8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Here ! Go in ! " said Daniel. 

Samuel went in, afraid. In a room as dishevelled and filthy 
as the bedroom, Mrs. Daniel Povey lay stretched awkwardly 
on a worn horse-hair sofa, her head thrown back, her face 
discoloured, her eyes bulging, her mouth wet and yawning : 
a sight horribly offensive. Samuel was frightened ; he was 
struck with fear and with disgust: The singing gas beat 
down ruthlessly on that dreadful figure. A wife and mother ! 
The lady of a house ! The centre of order ! The fount of 
healing ! The balm for worry, and the refuge of distress ! 
She was vile. Her scanty yellow-grey hair was dirty, her 
hollowed neck all grime, her hands abominable, her black 
dress in decay. She was the dishonour of her sex, her 
situation, and her years. She was a fouler obscenity than 
the inexperienced Samuel had ever conceived. And by the 
door stood her husband, neat, spotless, almost stately, the man 
who for thirty years had marshalled all his immense pride 
to suffer this woman, the jolly man who had laughed through 
thick and thin ! Samuel remembered when they were 
married. And he remembered when, years after their mar- 
riage, she was still as pretty, artificial, coquettish, and ada- 
mantine in her caprices as a young harlot with a fool at 
her feet. Time and the slow wrath of God had changed 
her. 

He remained master of himself and approached her ; then 
stopped. 

" But " he stammered. 

" Ay, Sam'l, lad ! " said the old man from the door. " I 
doubt I've killed her ! I doubt I've killed her ! I took and 
shook her. I got her by the neck. And before I knew where 
I was, I'd done it. She'll never drink brandy again. This 
is what it's come to I " 

He moved away. 

All Samuel's flesh tingled as a heavy wave of emotion rolled 
through his being. It was just as if some one had dealt him 
a blow unimaginably tremendous. His heart shivered, as a 
ship shivers at the mountainous crash of the waters. He was 
numbed. He wanted to weep, to vomit, to die, to sink away. 
But a voice was whispering to him : " You will have to go 
through with this. You are in charge of this." He thought 
of his wife and child, innocently asleep in the cleanly pure- 
ness of his home. And he felt the roughness of his coat- 
collar round his neck and the insecurity of his trousers. He 
passed out of the room, shutting the door. And across the 
yard he had a momentary glimpse of those nude nocturnal 
forms, unconsciously attitudinizing in the bakehouse. And 



ANOTHER CRIME. 219 

down the stairs came the protests of Dick, driven by pain 
into a monotonous silly blasphemy. 

" I'll fetch Harrop," he said, melancholily, to his cousin. 

The doctor's house was less than fifty yards off, and the 
doctor had a night-bell, which, though he was a much older 
man than his father had been at his age. he still answered 
promptly. No need to bombard the doctor's premises with 
Indian corn ! While Samuel was parleying with the doctor 
through a window, the question ran incessantly through his 
mind : " What about telling the police ? " 

But when, in advance of old Harrop, he returned to Daniel's 
shop, lo ! the policeman previously encountered had re- 
turned upon his beat, and Daniel was talking to him in the 
little doorway. No other soul was about. Down King 
Street, along Wedgwood Street, up the Square, towards 
Brougham Street, nothing but gas-lamps burning with their 
everlasting patience, and the blind fa9ades of shops. 
Only in the second storey of the Bank Building at the top 
of the Square a light showed mysteriously through a blind. 
Somebody ill there ! 

The policeman was in a high state of nervous excitement. 
That had happened to him which had never happened to him 
before. Of the sixty policemen in Bursley, just he had been 
chosen by fate to fit the socket of destiny. He was startled. 

" What's this, what's this, Mr. Povey ? " he turned hastily 
to Samuel. " What's this as Mr. Councillor Povey is a- telling 
me ? " 

" You come in, sergeant," said Daniel. 

" If I come in," said the policeman to Samuel, " you mun' 
go along Wedgwood Street, Mr. Povey, and bring my mate. 
He should be on Duck Bank, by rights." 

It was astonishing, when once the stone had begun to 
roll, how quickly it ran. In half an hour Samuel had actu- 
ally parted from Daniel at the police-office behind the 
Shambles, and was hurrying to rouse his wife so that she 
could look after Dick Povey until he might be taken off to 
Pirehill Infirmary, as old Harrop had instantly, on seeing 
him, decreed. 

" Ah 1 " he reflected in the turmoil of his soul : " God is 
not mocked ! " That was his basic idea : God is not mocked ! 
Daniel was a good fellow, honourable, brilliant ; a figure in 
the world. But what of his licentious tongue ? What of his 
frequenting of bars ? (How had he come to miss that train 
from Liverpool ? How ?) For many years he, Samuel, 
had seen in Daniel a living refutation of the authenticity of 
the old Hebrew menaces. But he had been wrong, after 



220 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

all ! God is not mocked ! And Samuel was aware of a 
revulsion in himself towards that strict codified godliness 
from which, in thought, he had perhaps been slipping away. 

And with it all he felt, too, a certain officious self-im- 
portance, as he woke his wife and essayed to break the news 
to her in a manner tactfully calm. He had assisted at the 
most overwhelming event ever known in the history of the 
town. 



II. 

" Your muffler I'll get it," said Constance. " Cyril, run 
upstairs and get father's muffler. You know the drawer." 

Cyril ran. It behoved everybody, that morning, to be 
prompt and efficient. 

" I don't need any muffler, thank you," said Samuel, cough- 
ing and smothering the cough. 

" Oh ! But, Sam " Constance protested. 

" Now please don't worry me ! " said Samuel with frigid 
finality. " I've got quite enough ! " He did not finish. 

Constance sighed as her husband stepped, nervous and self- 
important, out of the side-door into the street. It was early, 
not yet eight o'clock, and the shop still unopened. 

" Your father couldn't wait," Constance said to Cyril when 
he had thundered down the stairs in his heavy schoolboy 
boots. " Give it to me." She went to restore the muffler 
to its place. 

The whole house was upset, and Amy still an invalid ! 
Existence was disturbed ; there vaguely seemed to be a 
thousand novel things to be done, and yet she could think 
of nothing whatever that she needed to do at that moment ; 
so she occupied herself with the muffler. Before she re- 
appeared Cyril had gone to school, he who was usually a 
laggard. The truth was that he could no longer contain 
within himself a recital of the night, and in particular of the 
fact that he had been the first to hear the summons of the 
murderer on the window-pane. This imperious news had to 
be imparted to somebody, as a preliminary to the thrilling 
of the whole school ; and Cyril had issued forth in search of 
an appreciative and worthy confidant. He was scarcely five 
minutes after his father. 

In St. Luke's Square was a crowd of quite two hundred 
persons, standing moveless in the November mud. The 
body of Mrs. Daniel Povey had already been taken to the 
Tiger Hotel, and young Dick Povey was on his way in a 



ANOTHER CRIME. 221 

covered waggonette to Pirehill Infirmary on the other side 
of Knype. The shop of the crime was closed, and the blinds 
drawn at the upper windows of the house. There was 
absolutely nothing to be seen, not even a policeman. Never- 
theless the crowd stared with an extraordinary obstinate 
attentiveness at the fatal building in Boulton Terrace. 
Hypnotized by this face of bricks and mortar, it had ap- 
parently forgotten all earthly ties, and, regardless of break- 
fast and a livelihood, was determined to stare at it till the 
house fell down or otherwise rendered up its secret. Most 
of its component individuals wore neither overcoats nor 
collars, but were kept warm by a scarf round the neck and 
by dint of forcing their fingers into the furthest inch of their 
pockets. Then they would slowly lift one leg after the other. 
Starers of infirm purpose would occasionally detach them- 
selves from the throng and sidle away, ashamed of their 
fickleness. But reinforcements were continually arriving. 
And to these new-comers all that had been said in gossip 
had to be repeated and repeated : the same questions, the 
same answers, the same exclamations, the same proverbial 

Ehilosophy, the same prophecies recurred in all parts of the 
quare with an uncanny iterance. Well-dressed men spoke 
to mere professional loiterers ; for this unparalleled and 
glorious sensation, whose uniqueness grew every instant 
more impressive, brought out the essential brotherhood of 
mankind. All had a peculiar feeling that the day was 
neither Sunday nor week-day, but some eighth day of the 
week. Yet in the St. Luke's Covered Market close by, the 
stall-keepers were preparing their stalls just as though it 
were Saturday, just as though a Town Councillor had not 
murdered his wife at last ! It was stated, and restated 
infinitely, that the Povey baking had been taken over by 
Brindley, the second-best baker and confectioner, who had 
a stall in the market. And it was asserted, as a philosophical 
truth, and reasserted infinitely, that there would have been 
no sense in wasting good food. 

Samuel's emergence stirred the multitude. But Samuel 
passed up the Square with a rapt expression ; he might have 
been under an illusion, caused by the extreme gravity of his 
preoccupations, that he was crossing a deserted Square. He 
hurried past the Bank and down the Turnhill Road, to the 
private residence of " Young Lawton," son of the deceased 
' Lawyer Lawton." Young Lawton followed his father's pro- 
fession ; he was, as his father had been, the most success- 
ful solicitor in the town (though reputed by his learned rivals 
to be a fool), but the custom of calling men by their occupa- 



222 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

tions had died out with horse-cars. Samuel caught young 
Lawton at his breakfast, and presently drove with him, in 
the Lawton buggy, to the police-station, where their arrival 
electrified a crowd as large as that in St. Luke's Square. 
Later, they drove together to Hanbridge, informally to brief 
a barrister ; and Samuel, not permitted to be present at the 
first part of the interview between the solicitor and the 
barrister, was humbled before the pomposity of legal eti- 
quette. 

It seemed to Samuel a game. The whole rigmarole of 
police and police-cells and formalities seemed insincere. His 
cousin's case was not like any other case, and, though for- 
malities might be necessary, it was rather absurd to pretend 
that it was like any other case. In what manner it differed 
from other cases Samuel did not analytically inquire. He 
thought young Lawton was self-important, and Daniel too 
humble, in the colloquy of these two, and he endeavoured to 
indicate, by the dignity of his own demeanour, that in his 
opinion the proper relative tones had not been set. He 
could not understand Daniel's attitude, for he lacked im- 
agination to realize what Daniel had been through. After 
aU, Daniel was not a murderer ; his wife's death was due to 
accident, was simply a mishap. 

But in the crowded and stinking court-room of the Town 
Hall, Samuel began to feel qualms. It occurred that the 
Stipendiary Magistrate was .sitting that morning at Bursley. 
He sat alone, as not one of the Borough Justices cared to 
occupy the bench while a Town Councillor was in the dock. 
The Stipendiary, recently appointed, was a young man, from 
the southern part of the county ; and a Town Councillor of 
Bursley was no more to him than a petty tradesman to a man 
of fashion. He was youthfully enthusiastic for the majesty 
and the impartiality of English justice, and behaved as 
though the entire responsibility for the safety of that vast 
fabric rested on his shoulders. He and the barrister from 
Hanbridge had had a historic quarrel at Cambridge, and 
their behaviour to each other was a lesson to the vulgar in the 
art of chill and consummate politeness. Young Lawton, 
having been to Oxford, secretly scorned the pair of them, 
but, as he had engaged counsel, he of course was precluded 
from adding to the eloquence, which chagrined him. These 
three were the aristocracy of the court-room ; they knew it ; 
Samuel Povey knew it ; everybody knew it, and felt it. The 
barrister brought an unexceptionable zeal to the performance 
of his duties ; he referred in suitable terms to Daniel's char- 
acter and high position in the town, but nothing could hide 



ANOTHER CRIME. 223 

the fact that for him too his client was a petty tradesman 
accused of simple murder. Naturally the Stipendiary was 
bound to show that before the law all men are equal the 
Town Councillor and the common tippler ; he succeeded. 
The policeman gave his evidence, and the Inspector swore 
to what Daniel Povey had said when charged. The hearing 
proceeded so smoothly and quickly that it seemed naught 
but an empty rite, with Daniel as a lay figure in it. The 
Stipendiary achieved marvellously the illusion that to him a 
murder by a Town Councillor in St. Luke's Square was quite 
an everyday matter. Bail was inconceivable, and the bar- 
rister, being unable to suggest any reason why the Stipendi- 
ary should grant a remand indeed, there was no reason 
Daniel Povey was committed to the Stafford Assizes for trial. 
The Stipendiary instantly turned to the consideration of an 
alleged offence against the Factory Acts by a large local firm 
of potters. The young magistrate had mistaken his vocation. 
With his steely calm, with his imperturbable detachment 
from weak humanity, he ought to have been a General of 
the Order of Jesuits. 

Daniel was removed he did not go : he was removed, by 
two bare-headed constables. Samuel wanted to have speech 
with him, and could not. And later, Samuel stood in the 
porch of the Town Hall, and Daniel appeared out of a cor- 
ridor, still in the keeping of two policemen, helmeted now. 
And down below at the bottom of the broad flight of steps, 
up which passed dancers on the nights of subscription balls, 
was a dense crowd, held at bay by other policemen ; and 
beyond the crowd a black van. And Daniel to his cousin 
a sort of Christ between thieves was hurried past the 
privileged loafers in the corridor, and down the broad steps. 
A murmuring wave agitated the crowd. Unkempt idlers 
and ne'er-do-wells in corduroy leaped up like tigers in the 
air, and the policemen fought them back furiously. And 
Daniel and his guardians shot through the little living lane. 
Quick ! Quick ! For the captive is more sacred even than a 
messiah. The law has him in charge ! And like a feat of 
prestidigitation Daniel disappeared into the blackness of the 
van. A door slammed loudly, triumphantly, and a whip 
cracked. The crowd had been balked. It was as though the 
crowd had yelled for Daniel's blood and bones, and the faith- 
ful constables had saved him from their lust. 

Yes, Samuel had qualms. He had a sickness in the 
stomach. 

The aged Superintendent of Police walked by, with the 
aged Rector. The Rector was Daniel's friend. Never before 



*2 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

fcad the Rector spoken to the Nonconformist Samuel, but 
now he spoke to him ; he squeezed his hand. 

" Ah, Mr. Povey ! " he ejaculated grievously. 

" I I'm afraid it's serious ! " Samuel stammered. He 
hated to admit that it was serious, but the words came out 
of his mouth. 

He looked at the Superintendent of Police, expecting the 
Superintendent to assure him that it was not serious ; but 
the Superintendent only raised his small white-bearded chin, 
saying nothing. The Rector shook his head, and shook a 
senile tear out of his eye. 

After another chat with young Lawton, Samuel, on behalf 
of Daniel, dropped Ms pose of the righteous man to whom a 
mere mishup has occurred, and who is determined, with the 
lofty pride of innocence, to indulge all the whims of the law, 
to be more rovrlist than the king. He perceived that the 
law must be fought with its own weapons, that no advantage 
must be surrendered, and every possible advantage seized. 
He was truly astonisned at himself that such a pose had ever 
been adopted. His eyes were opened ; he saw things as they 
were. 

He returned home through a Square that was more in- 
terested than ever in the facade of his cousin's house. People 
were beginning to come from Hanbridge, Knype, Longshaw, 
Turnhill, and villages such as Moorthorne, to gaze at that 
fa9ade. And the fourth edition of the Signal, containing a 
full report of w^iat the Stipendiary and the barrister had said 
to each other, was being cried. 

In his shop he found customers, as absorbed in the triviali- 
ties o- purchase as though nothing whatever had happened. 
He was shocked ; he resented their callousness. 

"I'm too busy now," he said curtly to one who accosted 
him. 

" Sam ! " bis wife called him in a low voice. She was 
standing behind the till. 

" What is it ? " He was ready to crush, and especially to 
crush indiscreet babble in the shop. He thought she was 
going to vent her womanly curiosity at once. 

" Mr. Huntbach is waiting for you in the parlour," said 
Constance. 

" Mr. Huntbach ? " 

" Yes, from Longshaw." She whispered, " It's Mrs. Povey's 
cousin. He's come to see about the funeral and so on, the 
the inquest, I suppose." 

Samuel paused. " Oh, has he ! " said he defiantly. " Well, 
I'll see him. If he wants to see me, I'll see him." 



ANOTHER CRIME. 225 

That evening Constance learned all that was in his mind 
of bitterness against the memory of the dead woman whose 
failings had brought Daniel Povey to Stafford gaol and Dick 
to the Pirehill Infirmary. Again and again, in the ensuing 
days, he referred to the state of foul discomfort which he 
had discovered in Daniel's house. He nursed a feud against 
all her relatives, and when, after the inquest, at which he 
gave evidence full of resentment, she was buried, he vented 
an angry sigh of relief, and said : " Well, she's out of the 
way ! " Thenceforward he had a mission, religious in its 
solemn intensity, to defend and save Daniel. He took the 
enterprise upon himself, spending the whole of himself upon 
it, to the neglect of his business and the scorn of his health. 
He lived solely for Daniel's trial, pouring out money in pre- 
paration for it. He thought and spoke of nothing else. 
The affair was his one preoccupation. And as the weeks 
passed, he became more and more sure of success, more and 
more sure that he would return with Daniel to Bursley in 
triumph after the assize. He was convinced of the impos- 
sibility that " anything should happen " to Daniel ; the cir- 
cumstances were too clear, too overwhelmingly in Daniel's 
favour. 

When Brindley, the second-best baker and confectioner, 
made an offer for Daniel's business as a going concern, he was 
indignant at first. Then Constance, and the lawyer, and 
Daniel (whom he saw on every permitted occasion) between 
them persuaded him that if some arrangement was not made, 
and made quickly, the business would lose all its value, and 
he consented, on Daniel's behalf, to a temporary agreement 
under which Brindley should reopen the shop and manage it 
on certain terms until Daniel regained his freedom towards 
the end of January. He would not listen to Daniel's plain- 
tive insistence that he would never care to be seen hi Bursley 
again. He pooh-poohed it. He protested furiously that the 
whole town was seething with sympathy for Daniel ; and 
this was true. He became Daniel's defending angel, rescu- 
ing Daniel from Daniel's own weakness and apathy. He 
became, indeed, Daniel. 

One morning the shop-shutter was wound up, and Brindley, 
inflated with the importance of controlling two establish- 
ments, strutted in and out under the sign of Daniel Povey. 
And traffic in bread and cakes and flour was resumed. Ap- 
parently the sea of time had risen and covered Daniel and 
all that was his ; for his wife was under earth, and Dick 
lingered at Pirehill, unable to stand, and Daniel was locked 
away. Apparently, in the regular flow of the life of the 

8 



226 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Square, Daniel was forgotten. But not in Samuel Povey's 
heart was he forgotten 1 There, before an altar erected to 
the martyr, the sacred flame of a new faith burned with 
fierce consistency. Samuel, in his greying middle-age, had 
inherited the eternal youth of the apostle. 



III. 

On the dark winter morning when Samuel set off to the 
grand assize, Constance did not ask his views as to what pro- 
tection he would adopt against the weather. She silently 
ranged special underclothing, and by the warmth of the fire, 
which for days she had kept ablaze in the bedroom, Samuel 
silently donned the special underclothing. Over that, with 
particular fastidious care, he put his best suit. Not a word 
was spoken. Constance and he were not estranged, but the 
relations between them were in a state of feverish excitation. 
Samuel had had a cold on his flat chest for weeks, and nothing 
that Constance could invent would move it. A few days in 
bed or even in one room at a uniform temperature would 
have surely worked the cure. Samuel, however, would not 
stay in one room ; he would not stay in the house, nor yet 
in Bursley. He would take his lacerating cough on chilly 
trains to Stafford. He had no ears for reason ; he simply 
could not listen ; he was in a dream. After Christmas a 
crisis came. Constance grew desperate. It was a battle 
between her will and his that occurred one night when Con- 
stance, marshalling all her forces, suddenly insisted that he 
must go out no more until he was cured. In the fight Con- 
stance was scarcely recognizable. She deliberately gave way 
to hysteria ; she was no longer soft and gentle ; she flung 
bitterness at him like vitriol ; she shrieked like a common 
shrew. It seems almost incredible that Constance could 
have gone so far ; but she did. She accused him, amid sobs, 
of putting his cousin before his wife and son, of not caring 
whether or not she was left a widow as the result of his 
obstinacy. And she ended by crying passionately that she 
might as well talk to a post. She might just as well have 
talked to a post. Samuel answered quietly and coldly. He 
told her that it was useless for her to put herself about, as he 
should act as he thought fit. It was a most extraordinary 
scene, and quite unique in their annals. Constance was 
beaten. She accepted the defeat, gradually controlling her 
sobs and changing her tone to the tone of the vanquished. 



ANOTHER CRIME. 227 

She kissed him in bed, kissing the rod. And he gravely 
kissed her. 

Henceforward she knew, in practice, what the inevitable, 
when you have to live with it, may contain of anguish wretched 
and humiliating. Her husband was risking his life, so she 
was absolutely convinced, and she could do nothing ; she 
had come to the bed-rock of Samuel's character. She felt 
that, for the time being, she had a madman in the house, 
who could not be treated according to ordinary principles. 
The continual strain aged her. Her one source of relief was 
to talk with Cyril. She talked to him without reserve, and 
the words " your father," " your father," were everlastingly 
on her complaining tongue. Yes, she was utterly changed. 
Often she would weep when alone. 

Nevertheless she frequently forgot that she had been 
beaten. She had no notion of honourable warfare. She was 
always beginning again, always firing under a flag of truce ; 
and thus she constituted a very inconvenient opponent. 
Samuel was obliged, while hardening on the main point, to 
compromise on lesser questions. She too could be formi- 
dable, and when her lips took a certain pose, and her eyes 
glowed, he would have put on forty mufflers had she com- 
manded. Thus it was she who arranged all the details of 
the supreme journey to Stafford. Samuel was to drive to 
Knype, so as to avoid the rigours of the Loop Line train 
from Bursley and the waiting on cold platforms. At Knype 
he was to take the express, and to travel first-class. 

After he was dressed on that gas-lit morning, he learnt bit 
by bit the extent of her elaborate preparations. The break- 
fast was a special breakfast, and he had to eat it all. Then 
the cab came, and he saw Amy put hot bricks into it. Con- 
stance herself put goloshes over his boots, not because it was 
damp, but because indiarubber keeps the feet warm. Con- 
stance herself bandaged his neck, and unbuttoned his waist- 
coat and stuck an extra flannel under his dickey. Constance 
herself warmed his woollen gloves, and enveloped him in his 
largest overcoat. 

Samuel then saw Cyril getting ready to go out. " Where 
are you off ? " he demanded. 

" He's going with you as far as Knype," said Constance 
grimly. "He'll see you into the train and then come back 
here in the cab." 

She had sprung this indignity upon him. She glared. 
Cyril glanced with timid bravado from one to the other. 
Samuel had to yield. 

Thus in the winter darkness for it was not yet dawn 



228 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Samuel set forth to the trial, escorted by his son. The 
reverberation of his appalling cough from the cab was the 
last thing that Constance heard. 

During most of the day Constance sat in " Miss Insull's 
corner " in the shop. Twenty years ago this very corner 
had been hers. But now, instead of large millinery-boxes 
enwrapped in brown paper, it was shut off from the rest of 
the counter by a rich screen of mahogany and ground-glass, 
and within the enclosed space all the apparatus necessary to 
the activity of Miss Insull had been provided for. However, 
it remained the coldest part of the whole shop, as Miss Insull's 
fingers testified. Constance established herself there more 
from a desire to do something, to interfere in something, than 
from a necessity of supervising the shop, though she had said 
to Samuel that she would keep an eye on the shop. Miss 
Insull, whose throne was usurped, had to sit by the stove 
with less important creatures ; she did not like it, and her 
underlings suffered accordingly. 

It was a long day. Towards tea-time, just before Cyril 
was due from school, Mr. Critchlow came surprisingly in. 
That is to say, his arrival was less of a surprise to Miss Insull 
and the rest of the staff than to Constance. For he had lately 
formed an irregular habit of popping in at tea-time, to chat 
with Miss Insull. Mr. Critchlow was still defying time. He 
kept his long, thin figure perfectly erect. His features had 
not altered. His hair and beard could not have been whiter 
than they had been for years past. He wore his long white 
apron, and over that a thick reefer jacket. In his long, 
knotty fingers he carried a copy of the Signal, 

Evidently he had not expected to find the corner occupied 
by Constance. She was sewing. 

" So it's you ! " he said, hi his unpleasant, grating voice, 
not even glancing at Miss Insull. He had gained the reputa- 
tion of being the rudest old man hi Bursley. But his general 
demeanour expressed indifference rather than rudeness. It 
was a manner that said : " You've got to take me as I am. 
I may be an egotist, hard, mean, and convinced ; but those 
who don't like it can lump it. I'm indifferent." 

He put one elbow on the top of the screen, showing the 
Signal. 

" Mr. Critchlow ! " said Constance, primly ; she had ac- 
quired Samuel's dislike of him. 

" It's begun ! " he observed with mysterious glee. 

" Has it ? " Constance said eagerly. "Is it in the paper 
already ? " 

She had been far more disturbed about her husband's 



ANOTHER CRIME. 229 

health than about the trial of Daniel Povey for murder, but 
her interest in the trial was of course tremendous. And this 
news, that it had actually begun, thrilled her. 

" Ay ! " said Mr. Critchlow. " Didn't ye hear the Signal 
boy hollering just now all over the Square ? " 

No," said Constance. For her, newspapers did not exist. 
She never had the idea of opening one, never felt any curi- 
osity which she could not satisfy, if she could satisfy it at all, 
without the powerful aid of the press. And even on this 
day it had not occurred to her that the Signal might be 
worth opening. 

" Ay ! " repeated Mr. Critchlow. " Seemingly it began 
at two o'clock or thereabouts." He gave a moment of his 
attention to a noisy gas-jet, which he carefully lowered. 

" What does it say ? " 

" Nothing yet ! " said Mr. Critchlow ; and they read the 
few brief sentences, under their big heading, which described 
the formal commencement of the trial of Daniel Povey for 
the murder of his wife. " There was some as said," he re- 
marked, pushing up his spectacles, " that grand jury would 
alter the charge, or summat ! " He laughed, grimly tolerant 
of the extreme absurdity. " Ah ! " .he added contempla- 
tively turning his head to see if the assistants were listening. 
They were. It would have been too much, on such a day, 
to expect a strict adherence to the etiquette of the shop. 

Constance had been hearing a good deal lately of grand 
juries, but she had understood nothing, nor had she sought 
to understand. 

" I'm very glad it's come on so soon," she said. " In a 
sense, that is ! I was afraid Sam might be kept at Stafford 
for days. Do you think it will last long ? " 

" Not it ! " said Mr. Critchlow, positively. " There's 
naught in it to spin out." 

Then a silence, punctuated by the sound of stitching. 

Constance would really have preferred not to converse with 
the old man ; but the desire for reassurance, for the calming 
of her own fears, forced her to speak, though she knew well 
that Mr. Critchlow was precisely the last man in the town 
to give moral assistance if he thought it was wanted. 

" I do hope everything will be all right ! " she murmured. 

" Everything'll be all right ! " he said gaily. " Every- 
thing'll be all right. 1 Only it'll be all wrong for Dan." 

" Whatever do you mean, Mr. Critchlow ? " she protested. 
Nothing, she reflected, could rouse pity in that heart, not 
even a tragedy like Daniel's. She bit her lip for having 
spoken. 



230 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Well," he said in loud tones, frankly addressing the girls 
round the stove as much as Constance. " I've met with 
some rare good arguments this new year, no mistake ! There's 
been some as say that Dan never meant to do it. That's as 
may be. But if it's a good reason for not hanging, there's 
an end to capital punishment in this country. ' Never 
meant ' ! There's a lot of 'em as ' never meant ' 1 Then 
I'm told as she was a galivanting woman and no house- 
keeper, and as often drunk as sober. I'd no call to be told 
that. If strangling is a right punishment for a wife as 
spends her time in drinking brandy instead of sweeping floors 
and airing sheets, then Dan's safe. But I don't seem to see 
Judge Lindley telling the jury as it is. I've been a juryman 
under Judge Lindley myself and more than once and I 
don't seem to see him, like ! " He paused with his mouth 
open. " As for all them nobs," he continued, " including 
th' rector, as have gone to Stafford to kiss the book and 
swear that Dan's reputation is second to none if they could 
ha' sworn as Dan wasn't in th' house at all that night, if they 
could ha' sworn he was in Jericho, there'd ha' been some 
sense in their going. But as it is, they'd ha' done better to 
stop at home and mind their business. Bless us ! Sam 
wanted me to go ! " 

He laughed again, in the faces of the horrified and angry 
women. 

" I'm surprised at you, Mr. Critchlow ! I really am ! " 
Constance exclaimed. 

And the assistants inarticulately supported her with 
vague sounds. Miss Insull got up and poked the stove. 
Every soul in the establishment was loyally convinced that 
Daniel Povey would be acquitted, and to breathe a doubt 
on the brightness of this certainty was a hideous crime. 
The conviction was not within the domain of reason ; it was 
an act of faith ; and arguments merely fretted, without in 
the slightest degree disturbing it. 

" Ye may be ! " Mr. Critchlow gaily concurred. He was 
very content. 

Just as he shuffled round to leave the shop, Cyril entered. 

" Good afternoon, Mr. Critchlow," said Cyril, sheepishly 
polite. 

Mr. Critchlow gazed hard at the boy, then nodded his 
head several times rapidly, as though -to say : " Here's 
another fool in the making ! So the generations follow one 
another 1 " He made no answer to the salutation, and de- 
parted. 

Cyril ran round to his mother's corner, pitching his bag 



ANOTHER CRIME. 231 

on to the showroom stairs as he passed them. Taking off 
his hat, he kissed her, and she unbuttoned his overcoat with 
her cold hands. 

" What's old Methuselah after ? " he demanded. 

" Hush ! " Constance softly corrected him. " He came 
in to tell me the trial had started." 

" Oh, I knew that ! A boy bought a paper and I saw it. 
I say, mother, will father be in the paper ? " And then in 
a different tone : " I say, mother, what is there for tea ? " 

When his stomach had learnt exactly what there was for 
tea, the boy began to show an immense and talkative curi- 
osity in the trial. He would not set himself to his home- 
lessons. " It's no use, mother," he said, " I can't." They 
returned to the shop together, and Cyril would go every 
moment to the door to listen for the cry of a newsboy. Pres- 
ently he hit upon the idea that perhaps newsboys might 
be crying the special edition of the Signal in the market-place, 
in front of the Town Hall, to the neglect of St. Luke's Square. 
And nothing would satisfy him but he must go forth and see. 
He went, without his overcoat, promising to run. The shop 
waited with a strange anxiety. Cyril had created, by his 
restless movements to and fro, an atmosphere of strained 
expectancy. It seemed now as if the whole town stood with 
beating heart, fearful of tidings and yet burning to get them. 
Constance pictured Stafford, which she had never seen, and 
a court of justice, which she had never seen, and her husband 
and Daniel in it. And she waited. 

Cyril ran in. " No ! " he announced breathlessly. " Noth- 
ing yet." 

" Don't take cold, now you're hot," Constance advised. 

But he would keep near the door. Soon he ran off again. 

And perhaps fifteen seconds after he had gone, the strident 
cry of a Signal boy was heard in the distance, faint and in- 
distinct at first, then clearer and louder. 

" There's a paper ! " said the apprentice. 

" Sh ! " said Constance, listening. 

" Sh ! " echoed Miss Insull. 

" Yes, it is ! " said Constance. " Miss Insull, just step out 
and get a paper. Here's a halfpenny." 

The halfpenny passed quickly from one thimbled hand to 
another. Miss Insull scurried. 

She came in triumphantly with the sheet, which Constance 
tremblingly took. Constance could not find the report at 
first. Miss Insull pointed to it, and read 

1 Summing up 1 ' Lower down, lower down ! ' After an 
absence of thirty-five minutes the jury found the prisoner 



232 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

guilty of murder, with a recommendation to mercy. The 
judge assumed the black cap and pronounced sentence of 
death, saying that he would forward the recommendation 
to the proper quarter.' " 

Cyril returned. " Not yet ! " he was saying when he 
saw the paper lying on the counter. His crest fell. 

Long after the shop was shut, Constance and Cyril waited 
in the parlour for the arrival of the master of the house. 
Constance was in the blackest despair. She saw nothing but 
death around her. She thought : misfortunes never come 
singly. Why did not Samuel come ? All was ready for 
him, everything that her imagination could suggest, in the 
way of food, remedies, and the means of warmth. Amy was 
not allowed to go to bed, lest she might be needed. Constance 
did not even hint that Cyril should go to bed. The dark, 
dreadful minutes ticked themselves off on the mantelpiece 
until only five minutes separated Constance from the moment 
when she would not know what to do next. It was twenty- 
five minutes past eleven. If at half -past Samuel did not 
appear, then he could not come that night, unless the last 
train from Stafford was inconceivably late. 

The sound of a carriage ! It ceased at the door. Mother 
and son sprang up. 

Yes, it was Samuel ! She beheld him once more. And 
the sight of his condition, moral and physical, terrified her. 
His great strapping son and Amy helped him upstairs. 
" Will he ever come down those stairs again ? " This 
thought lanced Constance's heart. The pain was come and 
gone in a moment, but it had surprised her tranquil common- 
sense, which was naturally opposed to, and gently scornful 
of, hysterical fears. As she puffed, with her stoutness, up 
the stairs, that bland cheerfulness of hers cost her an im- 
mense effort of will. She was profoundly troubled ; great 
disasters seemed to be slowly approaching her from all 
quarters. 

Should she send for the doctor ? No. To do so would 
only be a concession to the panic instinct. She knew exactly 
what was the matter with Samuel : a severe cough persist- 
ently neglected, no more. As she had expressed herself many 
times to inquirers, " He's never been what you may call ill." 
Nevertheless, as she laid him in bed and posseted him, how 
frail and fragile he looked ! And he was so exhausted that 
he would not even talk about the trial. 

" If he's not better to-morrow I shall send for the doctor ! " 
she said to herself. As for his getting up, she swore she 
would keep him in bed by force if necessary. 



ANOTHER CRIME. 233 



IV. 

The next morning she was glad and proud that she had 
not yielded to a scare. For he was most strangely and 
obviously better. He had slept heavily, and she had slept a 
little. True that Daniel was condemned to death ! Leaving 
Daniel to his fate, she was conscious of joy springing in her 
heart. How absurd to have asked herself : " Will he ever 
come down those stairs again ? " ! 

A message reached her from the forgotten shop during the 
morning, that Mr. Lawton had called to see Mr. Ppvey. 
Already Samuel had wanted to arise, but she had forbidden 
it in the tone of a woman who is dangerous, and Samuel had 
been very reasonable. He now said that Mr. Lawton must 
be asked up. She glanced round the bedroom. It was 
"done" ; it was faultlessly correct as a sick chamber. She 
agreed to the introduction into it of the man from another 
sphere, and after a preliminary minute she left the two to 
talk together. This visit of young Lawton's was a dramatic 
proof of Samuel's importance, and of the importance of the 
matter in hand. The august occasion demanded etiquette, 
and etiquette said that a wife should depart from her husband 
when he had to transact affairs beyond the grasp of a wife. 

The idea of a petition to the Home Secretary took shape 
at this interview, and before the day was out it had spread 
over the town and over the Five Towns, and it was in the 
Signal. The Signal spoke of Daniel Povey as " the condemned 
man." And the phrase startled the whole district into an 
indignant agitation for his reprieve. The district woke up to 
the fact that a Town Councillor, a figure in the world, an 
honest tradesman of unspotted character, was cooped soli- 
tary in a little cell at Stafford, waiting to be hanged by the 
neck till he was dead. The district determined that this must 
not and should not be. Why ! Dan Povey had actually once 
been Chairman of the Bursley Society for the Prosecution 
of Felons, that association for annual eating and drinking, 
whose members humorously called each other " felons " 
Impossible, monstrous, that an ex -chairman of the " Felons " 
should be a sentenced criminal ! 

However, there was nothing to fear.- No Home Secretary 
would dare to run counter to the jury's recommendation and 
the expressed wish of the whole district. Besides, the Home 
Secretary's nephew was M.P. for the Knype division. Of 
course a verdict of guilty had been inevitable. Everybody 
recognized that now. Even Samuel and all the hottest 

8a 



234 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

partisans of Daniel Povey recognized it. They talked as if 
they had always foreseen it, directly contradicting all that 
they had said on only the previous day. Without any sense 
of any inconsistency or of shame, they took up an absolutely 
new position. The structure of blind faith had once again 
crumbled at the assault of realities, and unhealthy, un-English 
truths, the statement of which would have meant ostracism 
twenty-four hours earlier, became suddenly the platitudes of 
the Square and the market-place. 

Despatch was necessary in the affair of the petition, for 
the condemned man had but three Sundays. But there was 
delay at the beginning, because neither young Lawton nor 
any of his colleagues was acquainted with the proper formula 
of a petition to the Home Secretary for the reprieve of a 
criminal condemned to death. No such petition had been 
made in the district within living memory. And at first 
young Lawton could not get sight or copy of any such 
petition anywhere, hi the Five Towns or out of them. Of 
course there must exist a proper formula, and of course that 
formula and no other could be employed. Nobody was bold 
enough to suggest that young Lawton should commence the 
petition, " To the Most Noble the Marquis of Welwyn, K.C.B., 
May it please your Lordship," and end it, " And your peti- 
tioners will ever pray ! " and insert between those phrases a 
simple appeal for the reprieve, with a statement of reasons. 
No ! the formula consecrated by tradition must be found. 
And, after Daniel had arrived a day and a half nearer death, 
it was found. A lawyer at Am wick had the draft of a petition 
which had secured for a murderer in Northumberland twenty 
years' penal servitude instead of sudden death, and on 
request he lent it to young Lawton. The prime movers in 
the petition felt that Daniel Povey was now as good as saved. 
Hundreds of forms were printed to receive signatures, and 
these forms, together with copies of the petition, were laid 
on the counters of all the principal shops, not merely in 
Bursley, but in the other towns. They were also to be found 
at the offices of the Signal, in railway waiting-rooms, and in 
the various reading-rooms ; and on the second of Daniel's 
three Sundays they were exposed in the porches of churches 
and chapels. Chapel-keepers and vergers would come to 
Samuel and ask with .the heavy inertia of their stupidity : 
" About pens and ink, sir ? " These officials had the air of 
audaciously disturbing the sacrosanct routine of centuries in 
order to confer a favour. 

Samuel continued to improve. His cough shook him less, 
and his appetite increased. Constance allowed him to 



ANOTHER CRIME. 235 

establish himself in the drawing-room, which was next to the 
bedroom, and of which the grate was particularly efficient. 
Here, in an old winter overcoat, he directed the vast affair 
of the petition, which grew daily to vaster proportions. 
Samuel dreamed of twenty thousand signatures. Each sheet 
held twenty signatures, and several times a day he counted 
the sheets ; the supply of forms actually failed once, and 
Constance herself had to hurry to the printers to order more. 
Samuel was put into a passion by this carelessness of the 
printers. He offered Cyril sixpence for every sheet of 
signatures which the boy would obtain. At first Cyril was 
too shy to canvass, but his father made him blush, and in a 
few hours Cyril had developed into an eager canvasser. One 
whole day he stayed away from school to canvass. Altogether 
he earned over fifteen shillings, quite honestly except that 
he got a companion to forge a couple of signatures with 
addresses lacking at the end of a last sheet, generously 
rewarding him with sixpence, the value of the entire 
sheet. 

When Samuel had received a thousand sheets with twenty 
thousand signatures, he set his heart on twenty-five thousand 
signatures. And he also announced his firm intention of 
accompanying young Lawton to London with the petition. 
The petition had, in fact, become one of the most remark- 
able petitions of modern times. So the Signal said. The 
Signal gave a daily account of its progress, and its progress 
was astonishing. In certain streets every householder 'had 
signed it. The first sheets had been reserved for the signa- 
tures of members of Parliament, ministers of religion, civic 
dignitaries, justices of the peace, etc. These sheets were 
nobly filled. The aged rector of Bursley signed first of all ; 
after him the Mayor of Bursley, as was right ; then sundry 
M.P.'s. 

Samuel emerged from the drawing-room. He went into 
the parlour, and, later, into the shop ; and no evil conse- 
quence followed. His cough was nearly, but not quite, 
cured. The weather was extraordinarily mild for the 
season. He repeated that he should go with the petition to 
London ; and he went ; Constance could not validly oppose 
the journey. She, too, was a little intoxicated by the petition. 
It weighed considerably over a hundredweight. The crown- 
ing signature, that of the M.P. for Knype, was duly obtained 
in London, and Samuel's one disappointment was that his 
hope of twenty-five thousand signatures had fallen short of 
realization by only a few score. The few score could have 
been got had not time urgently pressed. He returned from 



236 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

London a man of mark, full of confidence ; but his cough 
was worse again. 

His confidence in the power of public opinion and the 
inherent virtue of justice might have proved to be well 
placed, had not the Home Secretary happened to be one of 
your humane officials. The Marquis of Welwyn was cele- 
brated through every stratum of the governing classes for his 
humane instincts, which were continually fighting against 
his sense of duty. Unfortunately his sense of duty, which 
he had inherited from several centuries of ancestors, made 
havoc among his humane instincts on nearly every occasion 
of conflict. It was reported that he suffered horribly in con- 
sequence. Others also suffered, for he was never known to 
advise a remission of a sentence of flogging. Certain capital 
sentences he had commuted, but he did not commute 
Daniel Povey's. He could not permit himself to be influ- 
enced by a wave of popular sentiment, and assuredly not 
by his own nephew's signature. He gave to the case the 
patient, remorseless examination which he gave to every 
case. He spent a sleepless night in trying to discover a 
reason for yielding to his humane instincts, but without 
success. As Judge Lindley remarked in his confidential 
report, the sole arguments in favour of Daniel were provo- 
cation and his previous high character ; and these were no 
sort of an argument. The provocation was utterly inade- 
quate, and the previous high character was quite too ludi- 
crously beside the point. So once more the Marquis's 
humane instincts were routed and he suffered horribly. 



V. 

On the Sunday morning after the day on which the Signal 
had printed the menu of Daniel Povey's supreme breakfast, 
and the exact length of the " drop " which the executioner had 
administered to him, Constance and Cyril stood together at 
the window of the large bedroom. The boy was in his best 
clothes ; but Constance's garments gave no sign of the 
Sabbath. She wore a large apron over an old dress that was 
rather tight for her. She was pale and looked ill. 

" Oh, mother ! " Cyril exclaimed suddenly. " Listen ! 
I'm sure I can hear the band." 

She checked him with a soundless movement of her lips ; 
and they both glanced anxiously at the silent bed, Cyril with 
a gesture of apology for having forgotten that he must make 
no noise. 



ANOTHER CRIME. 237 

The strains of the band came from down King Street, in 
the direction of St. Luke's Church. The music appeared to 
linger a long time in the distance, and then it approached, 
growing louder, and the Bursley Town Silver Prize Band 
passed under the window at the solemn pace of Handel's 
" Dead March." The effect of that requiem, heavy with its 
own inherent beauty and with the vast weight of harrowing 
tradition, was to wring the tears from Constance's eyes ; 
they fell on her aproned bosom, and she sank into a chair. 
And though the cheeks of the trumpeters were puffed out, 
and though the drummer had to protrude his stomach and 
arch his spine backwards lest he should tumble over his 
drum, there was majesty in the passage of the band. The 
boom of the drum, desolating the interruptions of the 
melody, made sick the heart, but with a lofty grief ; and the 
dirge seemed to be weaving a purple pall that covered every 
meanness. 

The bandsmen were not all in black, but they all wore 
crape on their sleeves and their instruments were knotted 
with crape. They carried in their hats a black-edged card. 
Cyril held one of these cards in his hands. It ran thus : 

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF 

DANIEL POVEY 

A TOWN COUNCILLOR OF THIS TOWN 
JUDICIALLY MURDERED AT 8 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING 

8TH FEBRUARY I 888 
" HE WAS MORE SINNED AGAINST THAN SINNING." 

In the wake of the band came the aged Rector, bare- 
headed, and wearing a surplice over his overcoat ; his thin 
white hair was disarranged by the breeze that played in the 
chilly sunshine ; his hands were folded on a gilt-edged book. 
A curate, churchwardens, and sidesmen followed. And after 
these, tramping through the dark mud in a procession that 
had apparently no end, wound the unofficial male multitude, 
nearly all in mourning, and all, save the more aristocratic, 
carrying the memorial card in their hats. Loafers, women, 
and children had collected on the drying pavements, and a 
window just opposite Constance was ornamented with the 
entire family of the landlord of the Sun Vaults. In the 
great bar of the Vaults a barman was craning over the pitch- 
pine screen that secured privacy to drinkers. The proces- 
sion continued without break, eternally rising over the verge 



238 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

of King Street " bank," and eternally vanishing round the 
corner into St. Luke's Square ; at intervals it was punctu- 
ated by a clergyman, a Nonconformist minister, a town 
crier, a group of foremen, or a few Rifle Volunteers. The 
watching crowd grew as the procession lengthened. Then 
another band was heard, also playing the march from Saul. 
The first band had now reached the top of the Square, and 
was scarcely audible from King Street. The reiterated glitter 
in the sun of memorial cards in hats gave the fanciful illusion 
of an impossible whitish snake that was straggling across the 
town. Three-quarters of an hour elapsed before the tail of 
the snake came into view, and a rabble of unkempt boys 
closed in upon it, filling the street. 

" I shall go to the drawing-room window, mother," said 
Cyril. 

She nodded. He crept out of the bedroom. 

St. Luke's Square was a sea of hats and memorial cards. 
Most of the occupiers of the Square had hung out flags at 
half-mast, and a flag at half-mast was flying over the Town 
Hall in the distance. Sightseers were at every window. 
The two bands had united at the top of the Square ; and 
behind them, on a North Staffordshire Railway lorry, stood 
the white-clad Rector and several black figures. The Rector 
was speaking ; but only those close to the lorry could hear 
his feeble treble voice. 

Such was the massive protest of Bursley against what 
Bursley regarded as a callous injustice. The execution of 
Daniel Povey had most genuinely excited the indignation 
of the town. That execution was not only an injustice ; 
it was an insult, a humiliating snub. And the worst was 
that the rest of the country had really discovered no sympa- 
thetic interest in the affair. Certain London papers, indeed, 
in commenting casually on the execution, had slurred the 
morals and manners of the Five Towns, professing to regard 
the district as notoriously beyond the realm of the Ten 
Commandments. This had helped to render furious the 
townsmen. This, as much as anything, had encouraged the 
spontaneous outburst of feeling which had culminated in a 
St. Luke's Square full of people with memorial cards in their 
hats. The demonstration had scarcely been organized ; it 
had somehow organized itself, employing the places of 
worship and a few clubs as centres of gathering. And it 
proved an immense success. There were seven or eight thou- 
sand people in the Square, and the pity was that England 
as a whole could not have had a glimpse of the spectacle. 
Since the execution of the elephant, nothing had so pro- 



ANOTHER CRIME. 239 

foimdly agitated Bursley. Constance, who left the bedroom 
momentarily for the drawing-room, reflected that the death 
and burial of Cyril's honoured grandfather, though a re- 
sounding event, had not caused one-tenth of the stir which 
she beheld. But then John Baines had killed nobody. 

The Rector spoke too long ; every one felt that. But at 
length he finished. The bands performed the Doxology, and 
the immense multitudes began to disperse by the eight 
streets that radiate from the Square. At the same time 
one o'clock struck, and the public-houses opened with their 
customary admirable promptitude. Respectable persons, of 
course, ignored the public-houses and hastened homewards 
to a delayed dinner. But in a town of over thirty thousand 
souls there are sufficient dregs to fill all the public-houses on 
an occasion of ceremonial excitement. Constance saw the 
bar of the Vaults crammed with individuals whose sense of 
decent fitness was imperfect. The barman and the landlord 
and the principal members of the landlord's family were hard 
put to it to quench that funereal thirst. Constance, as she ate 
a little meal in the bedroom, could not but witness the orgy. 
A bandsman with his silver instrument was prominent at 
the counter. At five minutes to three the Vaults spewed 
forth a squirt of roysterers who walked on the pavement as 
on a tight-rope ; among them was the bandsman, his silver 
instrument only half enveloped in its bag of green serge. He 
established an equilibrium in the gutter. It would not 
have mattered so seriously if he had not been a bandsman. 
The barman and the landlord pushed the ultimate sot by 
force into the street and bolted the door (till six o'clock) 
just as a policeman strolled along, the first policeman of the 
day. It became known that similar scenes were enacting 
at the thresholds of other inns. And the judicious were sad. 



VI. 

When the altercation between the policeman and the 
musician in the gutter was at its height, Samuel Povey 
became restless ; but since he had scarcely stirred through 
the performances of the bands, it was probably not the cries 
of the drunkard that had aroused him. 

He had shown very little interest in the preliminaries of 
the great demonstration. The flame of his passion for the 
case of Daniel Povey seemed to have shot up on the day 
before the execution, and then to have expired. On that day 



240 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

he went to Stafford in order, by permit of the prison gover- 
nor, to see his cousin for the last time. His condition then 
was undoubtedly not far removed from monomania. " Un- 
hinged " was the conventional expression which frequently 
rose in Constance's mind as a description of the mind of her 
husband ; but she fought it down ; she would not have it ; 
it was too crude with its associations. She would only ad- 
mit that the case had " got on " his mind. A startling proof 
of this was that he actually suggested taking Cyril with him 
to see the condemned man. He wished Cyril to see Daniel ; 
he said gravely that he thought Cyril ought to see him. The 
proposal was monstrous, inexplicable or explicable only 
t>y the assumption that his mind, while not unhinged, had 
temporarily lost its balance. Constance opposed an abso- 
lute negative, and Samuel being in every way enfeebled, 
she overcame. As for Cyril, he was divided between fear 
and curiosity. On the whole, perhaps Cyril regretted that he 
would not be able to say at school that he had had speech 
with the most celebrated killer of the' age on the day before 
his execution. 

Samuel returned hysterical from Stafford. His account of 
the scene, which he gave in a very loud voice, was a most 
absurd and yet pathetic recital, obviously distorted by 
memory. When he came to the point of the entrance of 
Dick Povey, who was still at the hospital, and who had been 
specially driven to Stafford and carried into the prison, he 
wept without restraint. His hysteria was painful in a very 
high degree. 

He went to bed of his own accord, for his cough had 
improved again. And on the following day, the day of the 
execution, he remained in bed till the afternoon. In the 
evening the Rector sent for him to the Rectory to discuss 
the proposed demonstration. On the next day, Saturday, 
he said he should not get up. Icy showers were sweeping the 
town, and his cough was worse after the evening visit to the 
Rector. Constance had no apprehensions about him. The 
most dangerous part of the winter was over, and there was 
nothing now to force him into indiscretions. She said to her- 
self calmly that he should stay in bed as long as he liked, 
that he could not have too much repose after the cruel 
fatigues, physical and spiritual, which he had suffered. His 
cough was short, but not as troublesome as in the past ; 
his face flushed, dusky, and settled in gloom ; and he was 
slightly feverish, with quick pulse and quick breathing 
the symptoms of a renewed cold. He passed a wakeful night, 
broken by brief dreams in which he talked. At dawn he had 



ANOTHER CRIME. 241 

some hot food, asked what day it was, frowned, and seemed 
to doze off at once." At eleven o'clock he had refused food. 
And he had intermittently dozed during the progress of the 
demonstration and its orgiastic sequel. 

Constance had food ready for his waking, and she ap- 
proached the bed and leaned over him. The fever had in- 
creased somewhat, the breathing was more rapid, and his 
lips were covered with tiny purple pimples. He feebly shook 
his head, with a disgusted air, at her mention of food. It 
was this obstinate refusal of food which first alarmed her. 
A little uncomfortable suspicion shot up in her : Surely 
there's nothing the matter with him ? 

Something impossible to say what caused her to bend 
still lower, and put her ear to his chest. She heard within 
that mysterious box a rapid succession of thin, dry, crack- 
ling sounds : sounds such as she would have produced by 
rubbing her hair between her fingers close to her ear. The 
crepitation ceased, then recommenced, and she perceived 
that it coincided with the intake of his breath. He coughed ; 
the sounds were intensified ; a spasm of pain ran over his 
face ; and he put his damp hand to his side. 

" Pain in my side ! " he whispered with difficulty. 

Constance stepped into the drawing-room, where Cyril was 
sketching by the fire. 

" Cyril," she said, " go across and ask Dr. Harrop to come 
round at once. And if he isn't in, then his new partner." 

" Is it for father ? " 

" Yes." 

" What's the matter ? " 

" Now do as I say, please," said Constance, sharply, add- 
ing : "I don't know what's the matter. Perhaps nothing. 
But I'm not satisfied." 

The venerable Harrop pronounced the word " pneumonia." 
It was acute double pneumonia that Samuel had got. During 
the three worst months of the year, he had escaped the fatal 
perils which await a man with a flat chest and a chronic 
cough, who ignores his condition and defies the weather. But 
a journey of five hundred yards to the Rectory had been one 
journey too many. The Rectory was so close to the shop 
that he had not troubled to wrap himself up as for an ex- 
cursion to Stafford. He survived the crisis of the disease 
and then died of toxaemia, caused by a heart that would not 
do its duty by the blood. A casual death, scarce noticed in 
the reaction after the great febrile demonstration ! Besides, 
Samuel Povey never could impose himself on the burgesses. 
He lacked individuality. He was little. I have often 



242 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

laughed at Samuel Povey. But I liked and respected him. 
He was a very honest man. I have always been glad to think 
that, at the end of his life, destiny took hold of him and dis- 
played, to the observant, the vein of greatness which runs 
through every soul without exception. He embraced a cause, 
lost it, and died of it. 



CHAPTER VI. 

THE WIDOW. 
I. 

CONSTANCE, alone in the parlour, stood expectant by the set 
tea-table. She was not wearing weeds ; her mother and she, 
on the death of her father, had talked of the various dis- 
advantages of weeds ; her mother had worn them unwillingly, 
and only because a public opinion not sufficiently advanced 
had intimidated her. Constance had said : "If ever I'm a 
widow I won't wear them," positively, in the tone of youth ; 
and Mrs. Baines had replied : "I hope you won't, my dear." 
That was over twenty years ago, but Constance perfectly re- 
membered. And now, she was a widow ! How strange and 
how impressive was life ! And she had kept her word ; not 
positively, not without hesitations ; for though times were 
changed, Bursley was still Bursley ; but she had kept it. 

This was the first Monday after Samuel's funeral. Exist- 
ence in the house had been resumed on the plane which would 
henceforth be the normal plane. Constance had put on for 
tea a dress of black silk with a jet brooch of her mother's. 
Her hands, just meticulously washed, had that feeling of being 
dirty which comes from roughening of the epidermis caused 
by a day spent in fingering stuffs. She had been " going 
through " Samuel's things, and her own, and ranging all 
anew. It was astonishing how little the man had collected, 
of " things," in the course of over half a century. All his 
clothes were contained in two long drawers and a short one. 
He had the least possible quantity of haberdashery and 
linen, for he invariably took from the shop such articles as 
he required, when he required them, and he would never 
preserve what was done with. He possessed no "jewellery 
save a set of gold studs, a scarf -ring, and a wedding-ring ; the 



244 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

wedding-ring was buried with him. Once, when Constance 
had offered him her father's gold watch and chain, he had 
politely refused it, saying that he preferred his own a silver 
watch (with a black cord) which kept excellent time ; he had 
said later that she might save the gold watch and chain for 
Cyril when he was twenty-one. Beyond these trifles and a 
half-empty box of cigars and a pair of spectacles, he left 
nothing personal to himself. Some men leave behind them a 
litter which takes months to sift and distribute. But Samuel 
had not the mania for owning. Constance put his clothes in 
a box, to be given away gradually (all except an overcoat 
and handkerchiefs which might do for Cyril) ; she locked up 
the watch and its black cord, the spectacles and the scarf- 
ring ; she gave the gold studs to Cyril ; she climbed on a 
chair and hid the cigar-box on the top of her wardrobe ; and 
scarce a trace of Samuel remained ! 

By his own wish the funeral had been as simple and private 
as possible. One or two distant relations, whom Constance 
scarcely knew and who would probably not visit her again, 
until she too was dead, came and went. And lo ! the affair 
was over. The simple celerity of the funeral would have 
satisfied even Samuel, whose tremendous self-esteem hid 
itself so effectually behind such externals that nobody had 
ever fully perceived it. Not even Constance quite knew 
Samuel's secret opinion of Samuel. Constance was aware 
that he had a ridiculous side, that his greatest lack had been 
a lack of spectacular dignity. Even in the coffin, where 
nevertheless most people are finally effective, he had not been 
imposing with his finicky little grey beard persistently 
sticking up. 

The vision of him in his coffin there in the churchyard, 
just at the end of King Street ! with the lid screwed down 
on that unimportant beard, recurred frequently in the mind 
of the widow, as something untrue and misleading. She had 
to say to herself : " Yes, he is really there ! And that is why 
I have this particular feeling in my heart." She saw him 
as an object pathetic and wistful, not majestic. And yet she 
genuinely thought that there could not exist another hus- 
band quite so honest, quite so just, quite so reliable, quite 
so good, as Samuel had been. What a conscience he had ! 
How he would try, and try, to be fair with her ! Twenty 
years she could remember, of ceaseless, constant endeavour 
on his part to behave rightly to her ! She could recall many 
an occasion when he had obviously checked himself, striving 
against his tendency to cold abruptness and to sullenness, 
in order to give her the respect due to a wife. What loyalty 



THE WIDOW. 245 

was his ! How she could depend on him ! How much 
better he was than herself (she thought with modesty) ! 

His death was an amputation for her. But she faced it 
with calmness. She was not bowed with sorrow. She did 
not nurse the idea that her life was at an end ; on the con- 
trary, she obstinately put it away from . her, dwelling on 
Cyril. She did not indulge in the enervating voluptuous- 
ness of grief. She had begun in the first hours of bereave- 
ment by picturing herself as one marked out for the blows 
of fate. She had lost her father and her mother, and now 
her husband. Her career seemed to be punctuated by in- 
terments. But after a while her gentle commonsense came 
to insist that most human beings lose their parents, and that 
every marriage must end in either a widower or a widow, 
and that all careers are punctuated by interments. Had 
she not had nearly twenty-one years of happy married life ? 
(Twenty-one years rolled up ! The sudden thought of 
their naive ignorance of life, hers and his, when they were 
first married, brought tears into her eyes. How wise and 
experienced she was now !) And had she not Cyril ? Com- 
pared to many women, she was indeed very fortunate. 

The one visitation which had been specially hers was the 
disappearance of Sophia. And yet even that was not worse 
than the death outright of Sophia, was perhaps not so bad. 
For Sophia might return out of the darkness. The blow of 
Sophia's flight had seemed unique when it was fresh, and 
long afterwards ; had seemed to separate the Baines family 
from all other families in a particular shame. But at the 
age of forty-three Constance had learnt that such events 
are not uncommon in families, and strange sequels to them 
not unknown. Thinking often of Sophia, she hoped wildly 
and frequently. 

She looked at the clock ; she had a little spasm of nervous- 
ness lest Cyril might fail to keep his word on that first day 
of their new regular life together. And at the instant he 
burst into the room, invading it like an armed force, having 
previously laid waste the shop in his passage. 

"I'm not late, mother ! I'm not late ! " he cried proudly. 

She smiled warmly, happy in him, drawing out of him 
balm and solace. He did not know that in that stout fa- 
miliar body before him was a sensitive, trembling soul that 
clutched at him ecstatically as the one reality in the uni- 
verse. He did not know that that evening meal, partaken 
of without hurry after school had released him to her, was 
to be the ceremonial sign of their intimate unity and their 
interdependence, a tender and delicious proof that they were 



246 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" all in all to each other " ; he saw only his tea, for which 
he was hungry just as hungry as though his father were 
not scarcely yet cold in the grave. 

But he saw obscurely that the occasion demanded some- 
thing not quite ordinary, and so he exerted himself to be 
boyishly charming to his mother. She said to herself " how 
good he was." He felt at ease and confident in the future, 
because he detected beneath her customary judicial, impar- 
tial mask a clear desire to spoil him. 

After tea, she regretfully left him, at his home-lessons, in 
order to go into the shop. The shop was the great unsolved 
question. What was she to do with the shop ? Was she to 
continue the business or to sell it ? With the fortunes of 
her father and her aunt, and the economies of twenty years, 
she had more than sufficient means. She was indeed rich, 
according to the standards of the Square ; nay, wealthy ! 
Therefore she was under no material compulsion to keep the 
shop. Moreover, to keep it would mean personal super- 
intendence and the burden of responsibility, from which her 
calm lethargy shrank. On the other hand, to dispose of the 
business would mean the breaking of ties and leaving the 
premises : and from this also she shrank. Young Lawton, 
without being asked, had advised her to sell. But she did 
not want to sell. She wanted the impossible : that matters 
should proceed in the future as in the past, that Samuel's 
death should change nothing save in her heart. 

In the meantime Miss Insull was priceless. Constance 
thoroughly understood one side of the shop ; but Miss Insull 
understood both, and the finance of it also. Miss Insull 
could have directed the establishment with credit, if not with 
brilliance. She was indeed directing it at that moment. 
Constance, however, felt jealous of Miss Insull ; she was con- 
scious of a slight antipathy towards the faithful one. She 
did not care to be in the hands of Miss Insull. 

There were one or two customers at the millinery counter. 
They greeted her with a deplorable copiousness of tact. 
Most tactfully they avoided any reference to Constance's 
loss ; but by their tone, their glances, at Constance and at 
each other, and their heroically restrained sighs, they spread 
desolation as though they had been spreading ashes instead 
of butter on bread. The assistants, too, had a special de- 
meanour for the poor lone widow which was excessively try- 
ing to her. She wished to be natural, and she would have 
succeeded, had they not all of them apparently conspired 
together to make her task impossible. 

She moved away to the other side of the shop, to Samuel's 



THE WIDOW. 247 

desk, at which he used to stand, Itaring absently out of the 
little window into King Street while murmurously casting 
figures. She lighted the gas-jet there, arranged the light 
exactly to suit her, and then lifted the large flap of the desk 
and drew forth some account books. 

" Miss Insull ! " she called, in a low, clear voice, with a 
touch of haughtiness and a touch of command in it. The 
pose, a comical contradiction of Constance's benevolent char- 
acter, was deliberately adopted ; it illustrated the effects of 
jealousy on even the softest disposition. 

Miss Insull responded. She had no alternative but to re- 
spond. And she gave no sign of resenting her employer's 
attitude. But then Miss Insull seldom did give any sign of 
being human. 

The customers departed, one after another, obsequiously 
sped by the assistants, who thereupon lowered the gases 
somewhat, according to saecular rule ; and in the dim eclipse, 
as they restored boxes to shelves, they could hear the tran- 
quil, regular, half-whispered conversation of the two women 
at the desk, discussing accounts; and then the chink of 
gold. 

Suddenly there was an irruption. One of the assistants 
sprang instinctively to the gas ; but on perceiving that the 
disturber of peace was only a slatternly girl, hatless and 
imperfectly clean, she decided to leave the gas as it was, 
and put on a condescending, suspicious demeanour. 

" If you please, can I speak to the missis ? " said the girl, 
breathlessly. 

She seemed to be about eighteen years of age, fat and 
plain. Her blue frock was torn, and over it she wore a rough 
brown apron, caught up at one corner to the waist. Her 
bare forearms were of brick-red colour. 

" What is it ? " demanded the assistant. 

Miss Insull looked over her shoulder across the shop. " It 
must be Maggie's Mrs. Hollins's daughter ! " said Miss 
Insull under her breath. 

" What can she want ? " said Constance, leaving the desk 
instantly ; and to the girl, who stood sturdily holding her 
own against the group of assistants : " You are Mrs. Hollins's 
daughter, aren't you ? " 

" Yes, mum." 

" What's your name ? " 

" Maggie, mum. And, if you please, mother's sent me to 
ask if you'll kindly give her a funeral card." 

" A funeral card ? " 

" Yes. Of Mr. Povey. She's been expecting of one, and 



248 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

she thought as how perhaps you'd forgotten it, especially as 
she wasn't asked to the funeral." 

The girl stopped. 

Constance perceived that by mere negligence she had seri- 
ously wounded the feelings of Maggie, senior. The truth was, 
she had never thought of Maggie. She ought to have re- 
membered that funeral cards were almost the sole ornamenta- 
tion of Maggie's abominable cottage. 

" Certainly," she replied after a pause. " Miss Insull, 
there are a few cards left in the desk, aren't there ? Please 
put me one in an envelope for Mrs. Hollins." 

She gave the heavily bordered envelope to the ruddy wench, 
who enfolded it in her apron, and with hurried, shy thanks 
ran off. 

" Tell your mother I send her a card with pleasure," Con- 
stance called after the girl. 

The strangeness of the hazards of life made her thought- 
ful. She, to whom Maggie had always seemed an old woman, 
was a widow, but Maggie's husband survived as a lusty in- 
valid. And she guessed that Maggie, vilely struggling in 
squalor and poverty, was somehow happy in her frowsy, care- 
less way. 

She went back to the accounts, dreaming. 



When the shop had been closed, under her own critical 
and precise superintendence, she extinguished the last gas in 
it and returned to the parlour, wondering where she might 
discover some entirely reliable man or boy to deal with the 
shutters night and morning. Samuel had ordinarily dealt 
with the shutters himself, and on extraordinary occasions 
and during holidays Miss Insull and one of her subordinates 
had struggled with their unwieldiness. But the extra- 
ordinary occasion had now become ordinary, and Miss Insull 
could not be expected to continue indefinitely in the func- 
tions of a male. Constance had a mind to engage an errand- 
boy, a luxury against which Samuel had always set his face. 
She did not dream of asking the herculean Cyril to open and 
shut the shop. 

He had apparently finished his home-lessons. The books 
were pushed aside, and he was sketching in lead-pencil on a 
drawing-block. To the right of the fireplace, over the sofa, 
there hung an engraving after Landseer, showing a lonely 



THE WIDOW. 249 

stag paddling into a lake. The stag at eve had drunk or was 
about to drink his fill, and Cyril was copying him. He had 
already indicated a flight of birds in the middle distance ; 
vague birds on the wing being easier than detailed stags, he 
had begun with the birds. 

Constance put a hand on his shoulder. " Finished your 
lessons ? " she murmured caressingly. 

Before speaking, Cyril gazed up at the picture with a 
frowning, busy expression, and then replied in an absent- 
minded voice : 

" Yes." And after a pause : " Except my arithmetic. I 
shall do that in the morning before breakfast." 

" Oh, Cyril ! " she protested. 

It had been a positive ordinance, for a long time past, 
that there should be no sketching until lessons were done. 
In his father's lifetime Cyril had never dared to break it. 

He bent over his block, feigning an intense absorption. 
Constance's hand slipped from his shoulder. She wanted 
to command him formally to resume his lessons. But she 
could not. She feared an argument ;. she mistrusted her- 
self. And, moreover, it was so soon after his father's 
death ! 

" You know you won't have time to-morrow morning ! " 
she said weakly. 

" Oh, mother ! " he retorted superiorly. " Don't worry." 
And then, in a cajoling tone : " I've wanted to do that stag 
for ages." 

She sighed and sat down in her rocking-chair. He went 
on sketching, rubbing out, and making queer expostulatory 
noises against his pencil, or against the difficulties need- 
lessly invented by Sir Edwin Landseer. Once he rose and 
changed the position of the gas-bracket, staring fiercely at 
the engraving as though it had committed a sin. 

Amy came to lay the supper. He did not acknowledge 
that she existed. 

" Now, Master Cyril, after you with that table, if you 
please ! " She announced herself brusquely, with the privi- 
lege of an old servant and a woman who would never see 
thirty again. 

" What a nuisance you are, Amy ! " he gruffly answered. 
" Look here, mother, can't Amy lay the cloth on that half of 
the table ? I'm right in the middle of my drawing. There's 
plenty of room there for two." 

He seemed not to be aware that, in the phrase " plenty of 
room for two," he had made a callous reference to their loss. 
The fact was, there was plenty of room for two. 



250 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Constance said quickly : " Very well, Amy. For fh'3 
once." 

Amy grunted, but obeyed. 

Constance had to summon him twice from art to nourish- 
ment. He ate with rapidity, frequently regarding the pic- 
ture with half-shut, searching eyes. When he had finished, 
he refilled his glass with water, and put it next to his sketch- 
ing-block. 

" You surely aren't thinking of beginning to paint at this 
time of night ! " Constance exclaimed, astonished. 

" Oh yes, mother ! " he fretfully appealed. " It's not 
late." 

Another positive ordinance of his father's had been that 
there should be nothing after supper except bed. Nine 
o'clock was the latest permissible moment for going to bed. 
It was now less than a quarter to. 

" It only wants twelve minutes to nine," Constance pointed 
out. 

" Well, what if it does ? " 

" Now, Cyril," she said, " I do hope you are going to be 
a good boy, and not cause your mother anxiety." 

But she said it too kindly. 

He said sullenly : ' " I do think you might let me finish it. 
I've begun it. It won't take me long." 

She made the mistake of leaving the main point. " How 
can you possibly choose your colours properly by gas-light ? " 
she said. 

" I'm going to do it in sepia," he replied in triumph. 

" It mustn't occur again," she said. 

He thanked God for a good supper, and sprang to the 
harmonium, where his paint-box was. Amy cleared away. 
Constance did crochet-work. There was silence. The clock 
struck nine, and it also struck half-past nine. She warned 
him repeatedly. At ten minutes to ten she said persua- 
sively : 

" Now, Cyril, when the clock strikes ten I shall really put 
the gas out." 

The clock struck ten. 

" Half a mo, half a mo ! " he cried. " I've done ! I've 
done ! " 

Her hand was arrested. 

Another four minutes elapsed, and then he jumped up. 
" There you are ! " he said proudly, showing her the block. 
And all his gestures were full of grace and cajolery. 

" Yes, it's very good," Constance said, rather indiffer- 
ently. 



THE WIDOW. 251 

" I don't believe you care for it ! " he accused her, but 
with a bright smile. 

" I care for your health," she said. " Just look at that 
clock ! " 

He sat down in the other rocking-chair, deliberately. 

" Now, Cyril ! " 

" Well, mother, I suppose you'll let me take my boots off 1 " 
He said it with teasing good-humour. 

When he kissed her good night, she wanted to cling to him, 
so affectionate was his kiss ; but she could not throw off 
the habits of restraint which she had been originally taught 
and had all her life practised. She keenly regretted the in- 
ability. 

In her bedroom, alone, she listened to his movements as 
he undressed. The door between the two rooms was un- 
latched. She had to control a desire to open it ever so little 
and peep at him. He would not have liked that. He could 
have enriched her heart beyond all hope, and at no cost to 
himself ; but he did not know his power. As she could not 
cling to him with her hands, she clung to him with that heart 
of hers, while moving sedately up and down the room, alone. 
And her eyes saw him through the solid wood of the door. 
At last she got heavily into bed. She thought with placid 
anxiety, in the dark : "I shall have to be firm with Cyril." 
And she thought also, simultaneously : " He really must be a 
good boy. He must." And clung to him passionately, with- 
out shame ! Lying alone there in the dark, she could be as 
unrestrained and girlish as her heart chose. When she 
loosed her hold she instantly saw the boy's father arranged 
in bis coffin, or flitting about the room. Then she would hug 
that vision too, for the pleasure of the pain it gave her. 



III. 

She was reassured as to Cyril during the next few days. 
He did not attempt to repeat' his ingenious naughtiness of the 
Monday evening, and he came directly home for tea ; more- 
over he had, as a kind of miracle performed to dazzle her, 
actually risen early on the Tuesday morning and done his 
arithmetic. To express her satisfaction she had manufac- 
tured a specially elaborate straw-frame for the sketch after 
Sir Edwin Landseer, and had hung it in her bedroom : an 
honour which Cyril appreciated. She was as happy as a 



252 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

woman suffering from a recent amputation can be : and 
compared with the long nightmare created by Samuel's 
monomania and illness, her existence seemed to be now a 
beneficent calm. 

Cyril, she thought, had realized the importance in her eyes 
of tea, of that evening hour and that companionship which 
were for her the flowering of the day. And she had such 
confidence in his goodness that she would pour the boiling 
water on the Horniman tea-leaves even before he arrived : 
certainty could not be more sure. And then, on the Friday 
of the first week, he was late ! He bounded in, after dark, 
and the state of his clothes indicated too clearly that he 
had been playing football in the mud that was a grassy field 
in summer. 

" Have you been kept in, my boy ? ** she asked, for the sake 
of form. 

" No, mother," he said casually. " We were just kicking 
the ball about a bit. Am I late ? " 

" Better go and tidy yourself," she said, not replying to 
his question. " You can't sit down in that state. And I'll 
have some fresh tea made. This is spoilt." 

" Oh, very well ! " 

Her sacred tea the institution which she wanted to 
hallow by long habit, and which was to count before every- 
thing with both of them had been carelessly sacrificed to 
the kicking of a football in mud ! And his father buried not 
ten days ! She was wounded : a deep, clean, dangeroys 
wound that would not bleed. She tried to be glad that he 
had not lied ; he might easily have lied, saying that he had 
been detained for a fault and could not help being late. No ! 
He was not given to lying ; he would lie, like any human 
being, when a great occasion demanded such prudence, but 
he was not a liar ; he might fairly be called a truthful boy. 
She tried to be glad, and did not succeed. She would have 
preferred him to have lied. 

Amy, grumbling, had to boil more water. 

When he returned to the parlour, superficially cleaned, 
Constance expected him to apologize in his roundabout boyish 
way ; at any rate to woo and wheedle her, to show by some 
gesture that he was conscious of having put an affront on 
her. But his attitude was quite otherwise. His attitude 
was rather brusque and overbearing and noisy. He ate 
a very considerable amount of jam, far too quickly, and 
then asked for more, in a tone of a monarch who calls for 
his own. And ere tea was finished he said boldly, apropos 
of nothing : 



THE WIDOW. 253 

" I say, mother, you'll just have to let me go to the School 
of Art after Easter." 

And stared at her with a fixed challenge in his eyes. 

He meant, by the School of Art, the evening classes at 
the School of Art. His father had decided absolutely 
against the project. His father had said that it would in- 
terfere with his lessons, would keep him up too late at night, 
and involve absence from home in the evening. The last 
had always been the real objection. His father had not been 
able to believe that Cyril's desire to study art sprang purely 
from his love of art ; he could not avoid suspecting that it 
was a plan to obtain freedom in the evenings that freedom 
which Samuel had invariably forbidden. In all Cyril's sug- 
gestions Samuel had been ready to detect the same scheme 
lurking. He had finally said that when Cyril left school 
and took to a vocation, then he could study art at night if he 
chose, but not before. 

" You know what your father said ! " Constance replied. 

" But, mother ! That's all very well ! I'm sure father 
would have agreed. If I'm going to take up drawing I 
ought to do it at once. That's what the drawing-master 
says, and I suppose he ought to know." He finished on a 
tone of insolence. 

" I can't allow you to do it yet," said Constance, quietly. 
' It's quite out of the question. Quite ! " 

He pouted and then he sulked. It was war between 
them. 

At times he was the image of his Aunt Sophia. He would 
not leave the subject alone ; but he would not listen to 
Constance's reasoning. He openly accused her of harshness. 
He asked her how she could expect him to get on if she 
thwarted him in his most earnest desires. He pointed to 
other boys whose parents were wiser. 

" It's all very fine of you to put it on father ! " he observed 
sarcastically. 

He gave up his drawing entirely. 

When she hinted that if he attended the School of Art she 
would be condemned to solitary evenings, he looked at her as 

though saying : " Well, and if you are ? " He seemed 

to have no heart. 

After several weeks of intense unhappiness she said : 
" How many evenings do you want to go ? " 

The war was over. 

He was charming again. When she was alone she could 
cling to him again. And she said to herself : " If we can be 
happy together only when I give way to him, I must give 



254 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

way to him." And there was ecstasy in her yielding. 
" After all," she said to herself, " perhaps it's very impor- 
tant that he should go to the School of Art." She solaced 
herself with such thoughts on three solitary evenings a week, 
waiting for him to come home. 



CHAPTER VII. 

BRICKS AND MORTAR. 
I. 

IN the summer of that year the occurrence of a white rash 
of posters on hoardings and on certain houses and shops, was 
symptomatic of organic change in the town. The posters 
were iterations of a mysterious announcement and summons, 
which began with the august words : " By Order of the 
Trustees of the late William Clews Mericarp, Esq." Mericarp 
had been a considerable owner of property in Bursley. After 
a prolonged residence at Southport, he had died, at the age of 
eighty-two, leaving his property behind. For sixty years he 
had been a name, not a figure ; and the news of his death, 
which was assuredly an event, incited the burgesses to gossip, 
for they had come to regard him as one of the invisible 
immortals. Constance was shocked, though she had never 
seen Mericarp. (" Everybody dies nowadays ! " she thought.) 
He owned the Baines-Povey shop, and also Mr. Critchlow's 
shop. Constance knew not how often her father and, later, 
her husband, had renewed the lease of those premises that 
were now hers ; but from her earliest recollections rose a 
vague memory of her father talking to her mother about 
"Mericarp's rent," which was and always had been a hundred 
a year. Mericarp had earned the reputation of being "a 
good landlord." Constance said sadly : " We shall never have 
another as good ! " When a lawyer's clerk called and asked 
her to permit the exhibition of a poster in each of her shop- 
windows, she had misgivings for the future ; she was wor- 
ried ; she decided that she would determine the lease next 
year, so as to be on the safe side ; but immediately after- 
wards she decided that she could decide nothing. 

The posters continued ; " To be sold by auction at the 
Tiger Hotel at six-thirty for seven o'clock precisely." What 



256 ' THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

six-thirty had to do with seven o'clock precisely no one 
knew. Then, after stating the name and credentials of the 
auctioneer, the posters at length arrived at the objects to be 
sold : " All those freehold messuages and shops and copy- 
hold tenements namely." Houses were never sold by auction 
in Bursley. At moments of auction burgesses were reminded 
that the erections they lived in were not houses, as they had 
falsely supposed, but messuages. Having got as far as 
" namely " the posters ruled a line and began afresh : " Lot i. 
All that extensive and commodious shop and messuage with 
the offices and appurtenances thereto belonging situate and 
being No. 4 St. Luke's Square in the parish of Bursley in the 
County of Stafford and at present in the occupation of Mrs. 
Constance Povey widow under a lease expiring in September 
1889." Thus clearly asserting that all Constance's shop was 
for sale, its whole entirety, and not a fraction or slice of it 
merely, the posters proceeded : " Lot 2. All that extensive 
and commodious shop and messuage with the offices and 
appurtenances thereto belonging situate and being No. 3 St. 
Luke's Square in the parish of Bursley in the County of 
Stafford and at present in the occupation of Charles Critchlow 
chemist under an agreement for a yearly tenancy." The 
catalogue ran to fourteen lots. The posters, lest any one 
should foolishly imagine that a non-legal intellect could have 
achieved such explicit and comprehensive clarity of state- 
ment, were signed by a powerful firm of solicitors in Han- 
bridge. Happily in the Five Towns there were no meta- 
physicians ; otherwise the firm might have been expected 
to explain, in the " further particulars and conditions " which 
the posters promised, how even a messuage could "be" the 
thing at which it was " situate." 

Within a few hours of the outbreak of the rash, Mr. Critch- 
low abruptly presented himself before Constance at the 
millinery counter ; he was waving a poster. 

" Well ! " he exclaimed grimly. " What next, eh ? " 

" Yes, indeed ! " Constance responded. 

" Are ye thinking o' buying ? " he asked. All the assist- 
ants, including Miss Insull, were in hearing, but he ignored 
their presence. 

" Buying ! " repeated Constance. " Not me ! I've got 
quite enough house property as it is." 

Like all owners of real property, she usually adopted 
towards her possessions an attitude implying that she would 
be willing to pay somebody to take them from her. 

" Shall yoy, ? " she added, with Mr. Critchlow's own 
brusqueness. 



BRICKS AND MORTAR. 257 

" Me ! Buy property in St. Luke's Square ! " Mr. Critch- 
low sneered. And then left the shop as suddenly as he had 
entered it. 

The sneer at St. Luke's Square was his characteristic ex- 
pression of an opinion which had been slowly forming for 
some years. The Square was no longer what it had been, 
though individual businesses might be as good as ever. For 
nearly twelve months two shops had been to let in it. And 
once, bankruptcy had stained its annals. The tradesmen had 
naturally searched for a cause in every direction save the 
right one, the obvious one ; and naturally they had found a 
cause. According to the tradesmen, the cause was " this foot- 
ball." The Bursley Football Club had recently swollen into 
a genuine rival of the ancient supremacy of the celebrated 
Knype Club. It had transformed itself into a limited com- 
pany, and rented a ground up the Moorthorne Road, and 
built a grand stand. The Bursley F.C. had " tied " with the 
Knype F.C. on the Knype ground a prodigious achieve- 
ment, an achievement which occupied a column of the 
Athletic News one Monday morning ! But were the trades- 
men civically proud of this glory ? No ! They said that 
" this football " drew people out of the town on Saturday 
afternoons, to the complete abolition of shopping. They 
said also that people thought of nothing but " this football ; " 
and, nearly in the same breath, that only roughs and good- 
for-nothings could possibly be interested in such a barbarous 
game. And they spoke of gate-money, gambling, and pro- 
fessionalism, and the end of all true sport in England. In 
brief, something new had come to the front and was submit- 
ting to the ordeal of the curse. 

The sale of the Mericarp estate had a particular interest for 
respectable stake-in-the-town persons. It would indicate to 
what extent, if at all, "this football " was ruining Bursley. 

Constance mentioned to Cyril that she fancied she might 
like to go to the sale, and as it was dated for one of Cyril's 
off-nights Cyril said that he fancied he might like to go too. 
So they went together ; Samuel used to attend property sales, 
but he had never taken his wife to one. Constance and 
Cyril arrived at the Tiger shortly after seven o'clock, and were 
directed to a room furnished and arranged as for a small 
public meeting of philanthropists. A few gentlemen were 
already present, but not the instigating trustees, solicitors, 
and auctioneers. It appeared that " six-thirty for seven 
o'clock precisely " meant seven-fifteen. Constance took a 
Windsor chair in the corner nearest the door, and motioned 
Cyril to the next chair ; they dared not speak ; they moved 

9 



THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 






on tiptoe ; Cyril inadvertently dragged his chair along the 
floor, and produced a scrunching sound ; he blushed, as 
though he had desecrated a church, and his mother made a 
gesture of horror. The remainder of the company glanced 
at the corner, apparently pained by this negligence. Some 
of them greeted Constance, but self-consciously, with a sort 
of shamed air ; it might have been that they had all nefari- 
ously gathered together there for the committing of a crime. 
Fortunately Constance's widowhood had already lost its 
touching novelty, so that the greetings, if self-conscious, were 
at any rate given without unendurable commiseration and did 
not cause awkwardness. 

When the official world arrived, fussy, bustling, bearing 
documents and a hammer, the general feeling of guilty shame 
was intensified. Useless for the auctioneer to try to dissipate 
the gloom by means of bright gestures and quick, cheerful 
remarks to his supporters ! Cyril had an idea that the meet- 
ing would open with a hymn, until the apparition of a tapster 
with wine showed him his error. The auctioneer very par- 
ticularly enjoined the tapster to see to it that no one lacked 
for his thirst, and the tapster became self-consciously ener- 
getic. He began by choosing Constance for service. In 
refusing wine, she blushed ; then the fellow offered a glass 
to Cyril, who went scarlet, and mumbled " No " with a lump 
in his throat ; when the tapster's back was turned, he 
smiled sheepishly at his mother. The majority of the com- 
pany accepted and sipped. The auctioneer sipped and 
loudly smacked, and said : " Ah ! " 

Mr. Critchlow came in. 

And the auctioneer said again : " Ah ! I'm always glad 
when the tenants come. That's always a good sign." 

He glanced round for approval of this sentiment. But 
everybody seemed too stiff to move. Even the auctioneer 
was self-conscious. 

" Waiter ! Offer wine to Mr. Critchlow ! " he exclaimed 
bully ingly, as if saying : " Man ! what on earth are you 
thinking of, to neglect Mr. Critchlow ? " 

" Yes, sir ; yes, sir," said the waiter, who was dispensing 
wine as fast as a waiter can. 

The auction commenced. 

Seizing the hammer, the auctioneer gave a short biograph) 
of William Clews Mericarp, and, this pious duty accom- 
plished, called upon a solicitor to read the conditions of sale. 
The solicitor complied and made a distressing exhibition of 
self-consciousness. The conditions of sale were very lengthy, 
and apparently composed in a ^foreign tongue ; and the 



BRICKS AND MORTAR. 259 

audience listened to this elocution with a stoical pretence of 
breathless interest. 

Then the auctioneer put up all that extensive and com- 
modious messuage and shop situate and being No. 4, St. 
Luke's Square. Constance and Cyril moved their limbs 
surreptitiously, as though being at last found out. The 
auctioneer referred to John Baines and to Samuel Povey, 
with a sense of personal loss, and then expressed his pleasure 
in the presence of "the ladies; " he meant Constance, who 
once more had to blush. 

" Now, gentlemen," said the auctioneer, " what do you say 
for these famous premises ? I think I do not exaggerate when 
I use the word ' famous.' ' 

Some one said a thousand pounds, in the terrorized voice 
of a delinquent. 

" A thousand pounds," repeated the auctioneer, paused, 
sipped, and smacked. 

" Guineas," said another voice self -accused of iniquity. 

" A thousand and fifty," said the auctioneer. 

Then there was a long interval, an interval that tightened 
the nerves of the assembly. 

" Now, ladies and gentlemen," the auctioneer adjured. 

The first voice said sulkily : " Eleven hundred." 

And thus the bids rose to fifteen hundred, lifted bit by bit, 
as it were, by the magnetic force of the auctioneer's person- 
ality. The man was now standing up, hi domination. He 
bent down to the solicitor's head ; they whispered to- 
gether. 

" Gentlemen," said the auctioneer, " I am happy to inform 
you that the sale is now open." His tone translated better 
than words his calm professional beatitude. Suddenly in a 
voice of wrath he hissed at the waiter : " Waiter, why don't 
you serve these gentlemen ? " 

" Yes, sir ; yes, sir." 

The auctioneer sat down and sipped at leisure, chatting 
with his clerk and the solicitor and the solicitor's clerk. 

When he rose it was as a conqueror. " Gentlemen, fifteen 
hundred is bid. Now, Mr. Critchlow." 

Mr. Critchlow shook his head. The auctioneer threw a 
courteous glance at Constance, who avoided it. 

After many adjurations, he reluctantly raised his hammer, 
pretended to let it fall, and saved it several times. 

And then Mr. Critchlow said : " And fifty." 

" Fifteen hundred and fifty is bid," the auctioneer informed 
the company, electrifying the waiter once more. And when 
he had sipped he said, with feigned sadness : " Come, gentle- 



260 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

men, you surely don't mean to let this magnificent lot go for 
fifteen hundred and fifty pounds ? " 

But they did mean that. 

The hammer fell, and the auctioneer's clerk and the solici- 
tor's clerk took Mr. Critchlow aside and wrote with him. 

Nobody was surprised when Mr. Critchlow bought Lot 
No. 2, his own shop. 

Constance whispered then to Cyril that she wished to leave. 
They left, with unnatural precautions, but instantly regained 
their natural demeanour in the dark street. 

" Well, I never ! Well, I never ! " she murmured outside, 
astonished and disturbed. 

She hated the prospect of Mr. Critchlow as a landlord. And 
yet she could not persuade herself to leave the place, in spite 
of decisions. 

The sale demonstrated that football had not entirely under- 
mined the commercial basis of society in Bursley ; only two 
Lots had to be withdrawn. 



II. 

On Thursday afternoon of the same week the youth whom 
Constance had ended by hiring for the manipulation of 
shutters and other jobs unsuitable for fragile women, was 
closing the shop. The clock had struck two. All the shutters 
were up except the last one, in the midst of the doorway. 
Miss Insull and her mistress were walking about the darkened 
interior, putting dust-sheets well over the edges of exposed 
goods ; the other assistants had just left. The bull-terrier 
had wandered into the shop as he almost invariably did at 
closing time for he slept there, an efficient guard and 
had lain down by the dying stove ; though not venerable, 
he was stiffening into age. 

" You can shut," said Miss Insull to the youth. 

But as the final shutter was ascending to its position, Mr. 
Critchlow appeared on the pavement. 

" Hold on, young fellow ! " Mr. Critchlow commanded, and 
stepped slowly, lifting up his long apron, over the horizontal 
shutter on which the perpendicular shutters rested in the 
doorway. 

" Shall you be long, Mr. Critchlow ? " the youth asked, 
posing the shutter. " Or am I to shut ? " 

" Shut, lad," said Mr. Critchlow, briefly. "I'll go out by 
th' side door." 

" Here's Mr. Critchlow ! " Miss Insull called out to Con- 



BRICKS AND MORT'AR. 261 

stance, in a peculiar tone. And a flush, scarcely perceptible, 
crept very slowly over her dark features. In the twilight of 
the shop, lit only by a few starry holes in the shutters, and by 
the small side-window, not the keenest eye could have de- 
tected that flush. 

" Mr. Critchlow ' " Constance murmured the exclamation. 
She resented his future ownership of her shop. She thought 
he was come to play the landlord, and she determined to let 
him see that her mood was independent and free, that she 
would as lief give up the business as keep it. In particular 
she meant to accuse him of having deliberately deceived her 
as to his intentions on his previous visit. 

" Well, missis ! " the aged man greeted her. " We've made 
it up between us. Happen some folk'll think we've taken 
our time, but I don't know as that's their affair." 

His little blinking eyes had a red border. The skin of his 
pale small face was wrinkled in millions of minute creases. 
His arms and legs were marvellously thin and sharply angular. 
The corners of his heliotrope lips were turned down, as usual, 
in a mysterious comment on the world ; and his smile, as he 
fronted Constance with his excessive height, crowned the 
mystery. 

Constance stared, at a loss. It surely could not after all 
be true, the substance of the rumours that had floated like 
vapours in the Square for eight years and more ! 

" What . . . ? " she began. 

" Me, and her ! " He jerked his head in the direction of 
Miss Insull. 

The dog had leisurely strolled forward to inspect the edges 
of the fiance's trousers. Miss Insull summoned the animal 
with a noise of fingers, and then bent down and caressed it. 
A strange gesture proving the validity of Charles Critchlow's 
discovery that in Maria Insull a human being was buried ! 

Miss Insull was, as near as any one could guess, forty years 
of age. For twenty-five years she had served in the shop, 
passing about twelve hours a day in the shop ; attending 
regularly at least three religious services at the Wesleyan 
Chapel or School on Sundays, and sleeping with her mother, 
whom she kept. She had never earned more than thirty 
shillings a week, and yet her situation was considered to be 
exceptionally good. In the eternal fusty dusk of the shop 
she had gradually lost such sexual characteristics and 
charms as she had once possessed. She was as thin and flat 
as Charles Critchlow himself. It was as though her b6som 
had suffered from a prolonged drought at a susceptible period 
of development, and had never recovered. The one proof 



362 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

that blood ran in her veins was the pimply quality of her 
ruined complexion, and the pimples of that brickish expanse 
proved that the blood was thin and bad. Her hands and 
feet were large and ungainly ; the skin of the fingers was 
roughened by coarse contacts to the texture of emery-paper. 
On six days a week she wore black ; on the seventh a kind of 
discreet half-mourning. She was honest, capable, and in- 
dustrious ; and beyond the confines of her occupation she had 
no curiosity, no intelligence, no ideas. Superstitions and prej- 
udices, deep and violent, served her for ideas ; but she could 
incomparably sell silks and bonnets, braces and oilcloth ; 
in widths, lengths, and prices she never erred ; she never 
annoyed a customer, nor foolishly promised what could not 
be performed, nor was late nor negligent, nor disrespectful. 
No one knew anything about her, because there was nothing 
to know. Subtract the shop-assistant from- her, and naught 
remained. Benighted and spiritually dead, she existed by 
habit. 

But for Charles Critchlow she happened to be an illusion. 
He had cast eyes on her and had seen youth, innocence, 
virginity. During eight years the moth Charles had flitted 
round the lamp of her brilliance, and was now singed past 
escape. He might treat her with what casualness he chose ; 
he might ignore her in public ; he might talk brutally about 
women ; he might leave her to wonder dully what he meant, 
for months at a stretch : but there emerged indisputable from 
the sum of his conduct the fact that he wanted her. He 
desired her ; she charmed him ; she was something orna- 
mental and luxurious for which he was ready to pay and to 
commit follies. He had been a widower since before she was 
born ; to him she was a slip of a girl. All is relative in this 
world. As for her, she was too indifferent to refuse him. 
Why refuse him ? Oysters do not refuse. 

" I'm sure I congratulate you both," Constance breathed, 
realizing the import of Mr. Critchlow's laconic words. " I'm 
sure I hope you'll be happy." 

" That'll be all right," said Mr. Critchlow. 

" Thank you, Mrs. Povey," said Maria Insull. 

Nobody seemed to know what to say next. " It's rather 
sudden," was on Constance's tongue, but did not achieve 
utterance, being patently absurd. 

" Ah ! " exclaimed Mr. Critchlow, as though himself con- 
templating anew the situation. 

Miss Insull gave the dog a final pat. 

" So that's settled," said Mr. Critchlow. " Now, missis, ye 
want to give up this shop, don't ye ? " 



BRICKS AND MORTAR. 263 

" I'm not so sure about that," Constance answered uneasily. 

" Don't tell me ! " he protested. " Of course ye want to 
give up the shop." 

" I've lived here all my life," said Constance. 

" Ye've not lived in th' shop all your life. I said th' shop. 
Listen here ! " he continued. " I've got a proposal to make 
to you. You can keep on the house, and I'll take the shop 
off your hands. Now ? " He looked at her inquiringly. 

Constance was taken aback by the brusqueness of the sug- 
gestion, which, moreover, she did not understand. 

" But how " she faltered. 

" Come here," said Mr. Critchlow, impatiently, and be 
moved towards the house-door of the shop, behind the till. 

" Come where ? What do you want ? " Constance de- 
manded in a maze. 

" Here ! " said Mr. Critchlow, with increasing impatience. 
" Follow me, will ye ? " 

Constance obeyed. Miss Insull sidled after Constance, and 
the dog after Miss Insull. Mr. Critchlow went through the 
doorway and down the corridor, past the cutting-out room to 
his right. The corridor then turned at a right-angle to the 
left and ended at the parlour door, the kitchen steps being to 
the left. 

Mr. Critchlow stopped short of the kitchen steps, and ex- 
tended his arms, touching the walls on either side. 

" Here ! " he said, tapping the walls with his bony knuckles. 
" Here ! Suppose I brick ye this up, and th' same upstairs 
between th' showroom and th' bedroom passage, ye've got 
your house to yourself. Ye say ye've lived here all your life. 
Well, what's to prevent ye finishing up here ? The fact is," 
he added, " it would only be making into two houses again 
what was two houses to start with, afore your time, missis." 

" And what about the shop ? " cried Constance. 

" Ye can sell us th' stock at a valuation." 

Constance suddenly comprehended the scheme. Mr. 
Critchlow would remain the chemist, while Mrs. Critchlow 
became the head of the chief drapery business in the town. 
Doubtless they would knock a hole through the separating 
wall on the other side, to balance the bricking-up on this side. 
They must have thought it all out in detail. Constance re- 
volted. 

" Yes ! " she said, a little disdainfully. " And my good- 
will ? Shall you take that at a valuation too ? " 

Mr. Critchlow glanced at the creature for whom he was 
ready to scatter thousands of pounds. She might have been 
a Phryne and he the infatuated fool. He glanced at her as 



264 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

if to say : " We expected this, and this is where we agreed it 
was to stop." 

" Ay ! " he said to Constance. " Show me your goodwill. 
Lap it up in a bit of paper and hand it over, and I'll take it 
at a valuation. But not afore, missis ! Not afore ! I'm 
making ye a very good offer. Twenty pound a year, I'll let 
ye th' house for. And take th' stock at a valuation. Think 
it over, my lass." 

Having said what he had to say, Charles Critchlow de- 
parted according to his custom. He unceremoniously let 
himself out by the side door, and passed with wavy apron 
round the corner of King Street into the Square and so to his 
own shop, which ignored the Thursday half-holiday. Miss 
Insull left soon afterwards. 



III. 

Constance's pride urged her to refuse the offer. But in 
truth her sole objection to it was that she had not thought of 
the scheme herself. For the scheme really reconciled her 
wish to remain where she was with her wish to be free of the 
shop. 

" I shall make him put me in a new window in the parlour 
one that will open ! " she said positively to Cyril, who 
accepted Mr. Critchlow's idea with fatalistic indifference. 

After stipulating for the new window, she closed with the 
offer. Then there was the stock-taking, which endured for 
weeks. And then the carpenter came and measured for the 
window. And a builder and a mason came and inspected 
doorways, and Constance felt that the end was upon her. 
She took up the carpet in the parlour and protected the furni- 
ture by dust-sheets. She and Cyril lived between bare 
boards and dust-sheets for twenty days, and neither car- 
penter nor mason reappeared. Then one surprising day the 
old window was removed by the carpenter's two journeymen, 
and late in the afternoon the carpenter brought the new 
window, and the three men worked till ten o'clock at night, 
fixing it. Cyril wore his cap and went to bed in his cap, and 
Constance wore a Paisley shawl. A painter had bound him- 
self beyond all possibility of failure to paint the window on 
the morrow. He was to begin at six a.m., and Amy's alarm- 
clock was altered so that she might be up and dressed to 
admit him. He came a week later, administered one coat, 
and vanished for another ten days. 

Then two masons suddenly came with heavy tools, and 



BRICKS AND MORTAR. 265 

were shocked to find that all was not prepared for them. 
(After three carpetless weeks Constance had relaid her floors.) 
They tore off wall-paper, sent cascades of plaster down the 
kitchen steps, withdrew alternate courses of bricks from the 
walls, and, sated with destruction, hastened away. After 
four days new red bricks 'began to arrive, carried by a quite 
guiltless hodman who had not visited the house before. The 
hodman met the full storm of Constance's wrath. It was not 
a vicious wrath, rather a good-humoured wrath ; but it im- 
pressed the hodman. " My house hasn't been fit to live in 
for a month," she said in fine. " If these walls aren't built 
to-morrow, upstairs and down to-morrow, mind ! don't 
let any of you dare to show your noses here again, for I won't 
have you. Now you've brought your bricks. Off with you, 
and tell your master what I say ! " 

It was effective. The next day subdued and plausible 
workmen of all sorts awoke the house with knocking at six- 
thirty precisely, and the two doorways were slowly bricked 
up. The curious thing was that, when the barrier was already 
a foot high on the ground floor Constance remembered small 
possessions of her own which she had omitted to remove 
from the cutting-out room. Picking up her skirts, she 
stepped over into the region that was no more hers, and 
stepped back with the goods. She had a bandanna round 
her head to keep the thick dust out of her hair. She was 
very busy, very preoccupied with nothings. She had no 
time for sentimentalities. Yet when the men arrived at the 
topmost course and were at last hidden behind their own 
ejection, and she could see only rough bricks and mortar, 
she was disconcertingly overtaken by a misty blindness and 
could not even see bricks and mortar. Cyril found her, 
with her absurd bandanna, weeping in a sheet-covered 
rocking-chair in the sacked parlour. He whistled uneasily, 
remarked : "I say, mother, what about tea ? " and then, 
hearing the heavy voices of workmen above, ran with relief 
upstairs. Tea had been set in the drawing-room, he was glad 
to learn that from Amy, who informed him also that she 
should " never get used to them there new walls," not as long 
as she lived. 

He went to the School of Art that night. Constance, 
alone, could find nothing to do. She had willed that the walls 
should be built, and they had been built ; but days must 
elapse before they could be plastered, and after the plaster 
still more days before the papering. Not for another month, 
perhaps, would her house be free of workmen and ripe for her 
own labours. She could only sit in the dust-drifts and 



266 



THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 



contemplate the havoc of change, and keep her eyes as dry 
as she could. The legal transactions were all but complete ; 
little bills announcing the transfer of the business lay on the 
counters in the shop at the disposal of customers. In two 
days Charles Critchlow would pay the price of a desire realized. 
The sign was painted out and new letters sketched thereon 
in chalk. In future she would be compelled, if she wished 
to enter the shop, to enter it as a customer and from the 
front. Yes, she saw that, though the house remained hers, 
the root of her life had been wrenched up. 

And the mess ! It seemed inconceivable that the material 
mess could ever be straightened away ! 

Yet, ere the fields of the county were first covered with 
snow that season, only one sign survived of the devastating 
revolution, and that was a loose sheet of wall-paper that had 
been too soon pasted on to new plaster and would not stick. 
Maria Insull was Maria Critchlow. Constance had been out 
into the Square and seen the altered sign, and seen Mrs. 
Critchlow's taste in window-curtains, and seen most impress- 
ive sight of all that the grimy window of the abandoned 
room at the top of the abandoned staircase next to the bed- 
room of her girlhood had been cleaned and a table put in 
front of it. She knew that the chamber, which she herself 
had never entered, was to be employed as a storeroom, but 
the visible proof of its conversion so strangely affected her 
that she had not felt able to go boldly into the shop, as she 
had meant to do, and make a few purchases in the way of 
friendliness. " I'm a silly woman ! " she muttered. Later, 
she did venture, timidly abrupt, into the shop, and was re- 
ceived with fitting state by Mrs. Critchlow (as desiccated as 
ever), who insisted on allowing her the special trade discount. 
And she carried her little friendly purchases round to her 
own door in King Street. Trivial, trivial event ! Constance, 
not knowing whether to laugh or cry, did both. She accused 
herself of developing a hysterical faculty in tears, and strove 
sagely against it. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

THE PROUDEST MOTHER, 
I. 

IN the year 1893 there was a new and strange man living at 
No. 4, St. Luke's Square. Many people remarked on the 
phenomenon. Very few of his like had ever been seen in 
Bursley before. One of the striking things about him was 
the complex way in which he secured himself by means of 
glittering chains. A chain stretched across his waistcoat, 
passing through a special button-hole, without a button, in 
the middle. To this cable were firmly linked a watch at one 
end and a pencil-case at the other ; the chain also served 
as a protection against a thief who might attempt to snatch 
the fancy waistcoat entire. Then there were longer chains, 
beneath the waistcoat, partly designed, no doubt, to deflect 
bullets, but serving mainly to enable the owner to haul up 
penknives, cigarette-cases, match-boxes, and key-rings from 
the profundities of hip-pockets. An essential portion of the 
man's braces, visible sometimes when he played at tennis, 
consisted of chain, and the upper and nether halves of his 
cuff-links were connected by chains. Occasionally he was 
to be seen chained to a dog. 

A reversion, conceivably, to a mediaeval type ! Yes, but 
also the exemplar of the excessively modern ! Externally he 
was a consequence of the fact that, years previously, the 
leading tailor in Bursley had permitted his son to be appren- 
ticed in London. The father died ; the son had the wit to 
return and make a fortune while creating a new type in the 
town, a type of which multiple chains were but one feature, 
and that the least expensive if the most salient. For in- 
stance, up to the historic year in which the young tailor 
created the type, any cap was a cap in Bursley, and any collar 
was a collar. But thenceforward no cap was a cap, and no 



268 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

collar was a collar, which did not exactly conform in shape 
and material to certain sacred caps and collars guarded by 
the young tailor in his back shop. None knew why these 
sacred caps and collars were sacred, but they were ; their 
sacredness endured for about six months, and then suddenly 
again none knew why they fell from their estate and be- 
came lower than offal for dogs, and were supplanted on the 
altar. The type brought into existence by the young tailor 
was to be recognized by its caps and collars, and in a similar 
manner by every other article of attire, except its boots. 
Unfortunately the tailor did not sell boots, and so imposed 
on his creatures no mystical creed as to boots. This was a 
pity, for the boot-makers of the town happened not to be 
inflamed by the type-creating passion as the tailor w r as, and 
thus the new type finished abruptly at the edges of the 
tailor's trousers. 

The man at No. 4, St. Luke's Square had comparatively 
small and narrow feet, which gave him an advantage ; and 
as he was endowed with a certain vague general physical 
distinction he managed, despite the eternal untidiness of his 
hair, to be eminent among the type. Assuredly the frequent 
sight of him in her house flattered the pride of Constance's 
eye, which rested on him almost always with pleasure. He 
had come into the house with startling abruptness soon 
after Cyril left school and was indentured to the head de- 
signer at " Peel's," that classic earthenware manufactory. 
The presence of a man in her abode disconcerted Constance 
at the beginning ; but she soon grew accustomed to it, 
perceiving that a man would behave as a man, and must be 
expected to do so. This man, in truth, did what he liked in 
all things. Cyril having always been regarded by both his 
parents as enormous, one would have anticipated a giant 
in the new man ; but, queerly, he was slim, and little above 
the average height. Neither in enormity nor in many other 
particulars did he resemble the Cyril whom he had supplanted. 
His gestures were lighter and quicker ; he had nothing of 
Cyril's ungainliness ; he had not Cyril's limitless taste for 
sweets, nor Cyril's terrific hatred of gloves, barbers, and soap. 
He was much more dreamy than Cyril, and much busier. 
In fact, Constance only saw him at meal-times. He was at 
Peel's in the day and at the School of Art every night. He 
would dream during a meal, even ; and, without actually 
saying so, he gave the impression that he was the busiest 
man in Bursley, wrapped in occupations and preoccupations 
as in a blanket a blanket which Constance had difficulty in 
penetrating. 



THE PROUDEST MOTHER. 269 

Constance wanted to please him ; she lived for nothing 
but to please him ; he was, however, exceedingly difficult to 
please, not in the least because he was hypercritical and 
exacting, but because he was indifferent. Constance, in 
order to satisfy her desire of pleasing had to make fifty efforts, 
in the hope that he might chance to notice one. He was a 
good man, amazingly industrious when once Constance had 
got him out of bed in the morning ; with no vices ; kind, 
save when Constance mistakenly tried to thwart him ; 
charming, with a curious strain of humour that Constance 
only half understood. Constance was unquestionably vain 
about him, and she could honestly find in him little to blame. 
But whereas he was the whole of her universe, she was 
merely a dim figure in the background of his. Every now and 
then, with his .gentle, elegant raillery, he would apparently 
rediscover her, as though saying : " Ah ! You're still there, 
are you ? " Constance could not meet him on the plane 
where his interests lay, and he never knew the passionate 
intensity of her absorption in that minor part of his life 
which moved on her plane. He never worried about her 
solitude, or guessed that in throwing her a smile and a 
word at supper he was paying her meagrely for three hours 
of lone rocking in a rocking-chair. 

The worst of it was that she was quite incurable. No 
experience would suffice to cure her trick of continually 
expecting him to notice things which he never did notice. 
One day he said, in the midst of a silence : " By the way, 
didn't father leave any boxes of cigars ? " She had the 
steps up into her bedroom and reached down from the dusty 
top of the wardrobe the box which she had put there after 
Samuel's funeral. In handing him the box she was doing 
a great deed. His age was nineteen, and she was ratifying 
his precocious habit of smoking by this solemn gift. He 
entirely ignored the box for several days. She said timidly : 
" Have you tried those cigars ? " " Not yet," he replied. 
" I'll try 'em one of these days." Ten days later, on a 
Sunday when he chanced not to have gone out with his 
aristocratic friend Matthew Peel-Swynnerton, he did at 
length open the box and take out a cigar. " Now," he 
observed roguishly, cutting the cigar, " we shall see, Mrs. 
Plover ! " He often called her Mrs. Plover, for fun. Though 
she liked him to be sufficiently interested in her to tease her, 
she did not like being called Mrs. Plover, and she never failed 
to say : " I'm not Mrs. Plover." He smoked the cigar slowly, 
in the rocking-chair, throwing his head back and sending 
clouds to the ceiling. And afterwards he remarked : " The 



270 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

old man's cigars weren't so bad." " Indeed ! " she answered 
tartly, as if maternally resenting this easy patronage. But 
in secret she was delighted. There was something in her 
son's favourable verdict on her husband's cigars that thrilled 
her. 

And she looked at him. Impossible to see in him any re- 
semblance to his father ! Oh ! He was a far more brilliant, 
more advanced, more complicated, more seductive being than 
his homely father ! She wondered where he had come from. 
And yet . . . ! If his father had lived, what would have 
occurred between them ? Would the boy have been openly 
smoking cigars in the house at nineteen ? 

She laboriously interested herself, so far as he would allow, 
in his artistic studies and productions. A back attic on the 
second floor was now transformed into a studio a naked 
apartment which smelt of oil and of damp clay. Often there 
were traces of clay on the stairs. For working in clay he 
demanded of his mother a smock, and she made a smock, 
on the model of a genuine smock which she obtained from a 
country-woman who sold eggs and butter in the Covered 
Market. Into the shoulders of the smock she put a week's 
fancy-stitching, taking the pattern from an old book of 
embroidery. One day when he had seen her stitching morn, 
noon, and afternoon, at the smock, he said, as she rocked 
idly after supper : "I suppose you haven't forgotten all 
about the smock I asked you for, have you, mater ? " 
She knew that he was teasing her ; but, while perfectly 
realizing how foolish she was, she nearly always acted as 
though his teasing was serious ; she picked up the smock 
again from the sofa. When the smock was finished he ex- 
amined it intently ; then exclaimed with an air of surprise : 
" By Jove ! That's beautiful ! Where did you get this pat- 
tern ? " He continued to stare at it, smiling in pleasure. He 
turned over the tattered leaves of the embroidery-book with 
the same naive, charmed astonishment, and carried the book 
away to the studio. " I must show that to Swynnerton," 
he said. As for her, the epithet " beautiful " seemed a strange 
epithet to apply to a mere piece of honest stitchery done in 
a pattern, and a stitch with which she had been familiar all 
her life. The fact was she understood his " art " less and less. 
The sole wall decoration of his studio was a Japanese print, 
which struck her as being entirely preposterous, considered 
as a picture. She much preferred his own early drawings 
of moss-roses and picturesque castles things that he now 
mercilessly contemned. Later, he discovered her cutting out 
another smock. " What's that for ? " he inquired. " Well," 



THE PROUDEST MOTHER. 271 

she said, " you can't manage with one smock. What shall 
you do when that one has to go to the wash ? " " Wash 1 " 
he repeated vaguely. " There's no need for it to go to the 
wash." " Cyril," she replied, " don't try my patience ! I 
was thinking of making you half-a-dozen." He whistled. 
" With all that stitching ? " he questioned, amazed at the 
undertaking. " Why not ? " she said. In her young days, 
no sempstress ever made fewer than half-a-dozen of any- 
thing, and it was usually a dozen ; it was sometimes half- 
a-dozen dozen. " Well," he murmured, " you have got a 
nerve ! I'll say that." 

Similar things happened whenever he showed that he was 
pleased. If he said of a dish, in the local tongue : " I could 
do a bit of that ! " or if he simply smacked his lips over it, 
she would surfeit him with that dish. 



II. 

On a hot day in August, just before they were to leave 
Bursley for a month in the Isle of Man, Cyril came home, 
pale and perspiring, and dropped on to the sofa. He wore a 
grey alpaca suit, and, except his hair, which in addition to 
being very untidy was damp with sweat, he was a master- 
piece of slim elegance, despite the heat. He blew out great 
sighs, and rested his head on the antimacassared arm of the 
sofa. 

" Well, matet" he said, in a voice of factitious calm, " I've 
got it." He was looking up at the ceiling. 

" Got what ? " 

" The National Scholarship. Swynnerton says it's a sheer 
fluke. But I've got it. Great glory for the Bursley School 
of Art ! " 

" National Scholarship ? " she said. " What's that ? 
What is it ? " 

" Now, mother ! " he admonished her, not without testi- 
ness. " Don't go and say I've never breathed a word about 
it ! " 

He lit a cigarette, to cover his self-consciousness, for he 
perceived that she was moved far beyond the ordinary. 

Never, in fact, not even by the death of her husband, 
had she received such a frightful blow as that which the 
dreamy Cyril had just dealt her. 

It was not a complete surprise, but it was nearly a complete 
surprise. A few months previously he certainly had men- 



272 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

tioned, in his incidental way, the subject of a National 
Scholarship. Apropos of a drinking-cup which he had 
designed, he had said that the director of the School of Art 
had suggested that it was good enough to compete for the 
National, and that as he was otherwise qualified for the 
competition he might as well send the cup to South Kensing- 
ton. He had added that Peel-Swynnerton had laughed at 
the notion as absurd. On that occasion she had compre- 
hended that a National Scholarship involved residence in 
London. She ought to have begun to live in fear, for Cyril 
had a most disturbing habit of making a mere momentary 
reference to matters which he deemed very important and 
which occupied a large share of his attention. He was 
secretive by nature, and the rigidity of his father's rule had 
developed this trait in his character. But really he had 
spoken of the competition with such an extreme casualness 
that with little effort she had dismissed it from her anxieties 
as involving a contingency so remote as to be negligible. 
She had, genuinely, almost forgotten it. Only at rare in- 
tervals had it wakened in her a dull transitory pain like the 
herald of a fatal malady. And, as a woman in the opening 
stage of disease, she had hastily reassured herself : " How 
silly of me ! This can't possibly be anything serious ! " 

And now she was condemned. She knew it. She knew 
there could be no appeal. She knew that she might as 
usefully have besought mercy from a tiger as from her good, 
industrious, dreamy son. 

" It means a pound a week," said Cyril, his self-conscious- 
ness intensified by her silence and by the dreadful look o 
her face. " And of course free tuition." 

" For how long ? " she managed to say. 

" Well," said he, " that depends. Nominally for a year. 
But if you behave yourself it's always continued for three 
years." 

If he stayed for three years he would never come back : 
that was a certainty. 

How she rebelled, furious and despairing, against the for- 
tuitous cruelty of things ! She was sure that he had not, 
till then, thought seriously of going to London. But the 
fact that the Government would admit him free to its class- 
rooms and give him a pound a week besides, somehow 
forced him to go to London. It was not the lack of means 
that would have prevented him from going. Why, then, 
should the presence of means induce him to go ? There was 
no logical reason. The whole affair was disastrously absurd. 
The art-master at the Wedgwood Institution had chanced, 



THE PROUDEST MOTHER. 273 

merely chanced, to suggest that the drinking-cup should be 
sent to South Kensington. And the result of this caprice 
was that she was sentenced to solitude for life ! It was too 
monstrously, too incredibly wicked I 

With what futile and bitter execration she murmured in 
her heart the word "If." If Cyril's childish predilections had 
not been encouraged ! If he had only been content to follow 
his father's trade ! If she had flatly refused to sign his 
indenture at Peel's and pay the premium ! If he had not 
turned from colour to clay ! If the art-master had not had 
that fatal " idea " ! If the judges for the competition had 
decided otherwise ! If only she had brought Cyril up in 
habits of obedience, sacrificing temporary peace to perma- 
nent security ! 

For after all he could not abandon her without her con- 
sent. He was not of age. And he would want a lot more 
money, which he could obtain from none but her. She 
could refuse. . . . No ! She could not refuse. He was 
the master, the tyrant. For the sake of daily pleasantness 
she had weakly yielded to him at the start ! She had be- 
haved badly to herself and to him. He was spoiled. She 
had spoiled him. And he was about to repay her with life- 
long misery, and nothing would deflect him from his course. 
The usual conduct of the spoilt child ! Had she not witnessed 
it, and moralized upon it, in other families ? 

" You don't seem very chirpy over it, mater ! " he said. 

She went out of the room. His joy in the prospect of de- 
parture from the Five Towns, from her, though he masked 
it, was more manifest than she could bear. 

The Signal, the next day, made a special item of the 
news. It appeared that no National Scholarship had been 
won in the Five Towns for eleven years. The citizens were 
exhorted to remember that Mr. Povey had gained his success 
in open competition with the cleverest young students of the 
entire kingdom and in a branch of art which he had but 
recently taken up ; and further, that the Government offered 
only eight scholarships each year. The name of Cyril Povey 
passed from lip to lip. And nobody who met Constance, 
in street or shop, could refrain from informing her that 
she ought to be a proud mother, to have such a son, but that 
truly they were not surprised . . . and how proud his poor 
father would have been ! A few sympathetically hinted that 
maternal pride was one of those luxuries that may cost too 
dear. 



274 THE OLE> WIVES' TALE. 



III. 

The holiday in the Isle of Man was of course ruined for 
her. She could scarcely walk because of the weight of a 
lump of lead that she carried in her bosom. On the brightest 
days the lump of lead was always there. Besides, she was 
so obese. In ordinary circumstances they might have 
stayed beyond the month. An indentured pupil is not 
strapped to the wheel like a common apprentice. Moreover, 
the indentures were to be cancelled. But Constance did not 
care to stay. She had to prepare for his departure to 
London. She had to lay the faggots for her own martyrdom. 

In this business of preparation she showed as much 
silliness, she betrayed as perfect a lack of perspective, as the 
most superior son could desire for a topic of affectionate 
irony. Her preoccupation with petty things of no impor- 
tance whatever was worthy of the finest traditions of fond 
motherhood. However, Cyril's careless satire had no effect 
on her, save that once she got angry, thereby startling him ; 
he quite correctly and sagety laid this unprecedented outburst 
to the account of her wrought nerves, and forgave it. 
Happily for the smoothness of Cyril's translation to London, 
young Peel-Swynnerton was acquainted with the capital, 
had a brother in Chelsea, knew of reputable lodgings, was, 
indeed, an encyclopaedia of the town, and would himself 
spend a portion of the autumn there. Otherwise, the pre- 
liminaries which his mother would have insisted on by means 
of tears and hysteria might have proved fatiguing to Cyril. 

The day came when on that day week Cyril would be gone. 
Constance steadily fabricated cheerfulness against the pros- 
pect. She said : 

" Suppose I come with you ? " 

He smiled in toleration of this joke as being a passable 
quality of joke. And then she smiled in the same sense, 
hastening to agree with him that as a joke it was not a bad 
joke. 

In the last week he was very loyal to his tailor. Many a 
young man would have commanded new clothes after, not 
before, his arrival in London. But Cyril had faith in his 
creator. 

On the day of departure the household, the very house 
itself, was in a state of excitation. He was to leave early. 
He would not listen to the project of her accompanying him 
as far as Knype, where the Loop Line joined the main. She 
might go to Bursley Station and no further. When she 



THE PROUDEST MOTHER. 275 

rebelled he disclosed the merest hint of his sullen-churlish 
side, and she at once yielded. During breakfast she did not 
cry, but the aspect of her face made him protest. 

" Now, look here, mater ! Just try to remember that I 
shall be back for Christmas. It's barely three months." 
And he lit a cigarette. 

She made no reply. 

Amy lugged a Gladstone bag down the crooked stairs. A 
trunk was already close to the door ; it had wrinkled the 
carpet and deranged the mat. 

" You didn't forget to put the hair-brush in, did you, 
Amy ? " he asked. 

" N no, Mr. Cyril," she blubbered. 

" Amy I " Constance sharply corrected her, as Cyril ran 
upstairs, " I wonder you can't control yourself better than 
that." 

Amy weakly apologized. Although treated almost as one 
of the family, she ought not to have forgotten that she was 
a servant. What right had she to weep over Cyril's luggage ? 
This question was put to her in Constance's tone. 

The cab came. Cyril tumbled downstairs with exaggerated 
carelessness, and with exaggerated carelessness he joked at 
the cabman. 

" Now, mother ! " he cried, when the luggage was stowed. 
" Do you want me to miss this train ? " But he knew that 
the margin of time was ample. It was his fun ! 

" Nay, I can't be hurried ! " she said, fixing her bonnet. 
" Amy, as soon as we are gone you can clear this table." 

She climbed heavily into the cab. 

" That's it ! Smash the springs ! " Cyril teased her. 

The horse got a stinging cut to recall him to the seriousness 
of life. It was a fine, bracing autumn morning, and the driver 
felt the need of communicating his abundant energy to some 
one or something. They drove off, Amy staring after them 
from the door. Matters had been so marvellously well ar- 
ranged that they arrived at the station twenty minutes before 
the train was due. 

" Never mind ! " Cyril mockingly comforted his mother. 
" You'd rather be twenty minutes too soon than one minute 
too late, wouldn't you ? " 

His high spirits had to come out somehow. 

Gradually the minutes passed, and the empty slate-tinted 
platform became dotted with people to whom that train was 
nothing but a Loop Line train, people who took that train 
every week-day of their lives and knew all its eccentricities. 

And they heard the train whistle as it started from Turn- 



276 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

hill. And Cyril had a final word with the porter who was in 
charge of the luggage. He made a handsome figure, and he 
had twenty pounds in his pocket. When he returned to 
Constance she was sniffing, and through her veil he could see 
that her eyes were circled with red. But through her veil she 
could see nothing. The train rolled in, rattling to a stand- 
still. Constance lifted her veil and kissed him ; and kissed 
her life out. He smelt the odour of her crape. He was, for 
an instant, close to her, close ; and he seemed to have an 
overwhelmingly intimate glimpse into her secrets ; he 
seemed to be choked in the sudden strong emotion of that 
crape. He felt queer. 

" Here you are, sir ! Second smoker ! " called the porter. 

The daily frequenters of the train boarded it with their 
customary disgust. 

"I'll write as soon as ever I get there ! " said Cyril, of his 
own accord. It was the best he could muster. 

With what grace he raised his hat ! 

A sliding-away ; clouds of steam ; and she shared the dead 
platform with milk-cans, two porters, and Smith's noisy boy ! 

She walked home very slowly and painfully. The lump of 
lead was heavier than ever before. And the townspeople saw 
the proudest mother in Bursley walking home. 

" After all," she argued with her soul angrily, petulantly, 
" could you expect the boy to do anything else ? He is a 
serious student, he has had a brilliant success, and is he to 
be tied to your apron-strings ? The idea is preposterous. 
It isn't as if he was an idler, or a bad son. No mother could 
have a better son. A nice thing that he should stay all his 
life in Bursley simply because you don't like being left alone ! " 

Unfortunately one might as well argue with a mule as with 
one's soul. Her soul only kept on saying- monotonously : 
" I'm a lonely old woman now. I've nothing to live for any 
more, and I'm no use to anybody. Once I was young and 
proud. And this is what my life has come to ! This is the 
end ! " 

When she reached home, Amy had not touched the break- 
fast things ; the carpet was still wrinkled, and the mat still 
out of place. And, through the desolating atmosphere of 
reaction after a terrific crisis, she marched directly upstairs, 
entered his plundered room, and beheld the disorder of the 
bed in which he had slept. 



BOOK III. 
SOPHIA. 



CHAPTER I. 

THE ELOPEMENT. 
I. 

HER soberly rich dress had a countrified air, as she waited, 
ready for the streets, in the bedroom of the London hotel on 
the afternoon of the first of July, 1866 ; but there was nothing 
of the provincial in that beautiful face, nor in that bearing 
at once shy and haughty ; and her eager heart soared beyond 
geographical boundaries. 

It was the Hatfield Hotel, in Salisbury Street, between the 
Strand and the river. Both street and hotel are now gone, 
lost in the vast foundations of the Savoy and the Cecil ; but 
the type of the Hatfield lingers with ever-increasing shabbi- 
ness in Jermyn Street. In 1866, with its dark passages and 
crooked stairs, its candles, its carpets and stuffs which had 
outlived their patterns, its narrow dining-room where a 
thousand busy flies ate together at one long table, its acrid 
stagnant atmosphere, and its disturbing sensation of dirt 
everywhere concealing itself, it stood forth in rectitude as a 
good average modern hotel. The patched and senile drab- 
ness of the bedroom made an environment that emphasized 
Sophia's flashing youth. She alone in it was unsullied. 

There was a knock at the door, apparently gay and jaunty. 
But she thought, truly : " He's nearly as nervous as I am ! " 
And in her sick nervousness she coughed, and then tried to 
take full possession of herself. The moment had at last come 
which would divide her life as a battle divides the history of 
a nation. Her mind in an instant swept backwards through 
an incredible three months. 

The schemings to obtain and to hide Gerald's letters at the 
shop, and to reply to them ! The far more complex and dan- 
gerous duplicity practised upon her majestic aunt at "Axe ! 
The visits to the Axe post-office ! The three divine meet- 



280 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ings with Gerald at early morning by the canal-feeder, when 
he had told her of his inheritance and of the harshness of his 
uncle Boldero, and with a rush of words had spread before 
her the prospect of eternal bliss ! The nights of fear ! The 
sudden, dizzy acquiescence hi his plan, and the feeling of 
universal unreality which obsessed her ! The audacious 
departure from her aunt's, showering a cascade of appalling 
lies ! Her dismay at Knype Station ! Her blush as she 
asked for a ticket to London ! The ironic, sympathetic 
glance of the porter, who took charge of her trunk ! And 
then the thunder of the incoming train ! Her renewed dis- 
may when she found that it was very full, and her dis- 
tracted plunge into a compartment with six people already 
in it I And the abrupt reopening of the carriage-door and 
that curt inquisition from an inspector : " Where for, please ? 
Where for ? Where for ? " Until her turn was reached : 
" Where for, miss ? " and her weak little reply : " Euston " ! 
And more violent blushes ! And then the long, steady beat- 
ing of the train over the rails, keeping time to the rhythm 
of the unanswerable voice within her breast : " Why are you 
here? Why are you here?" And then Rugby; and the 
awful ordeal of meeting Gerald, his entry into the compart- 
ment, the rearrangement of seats, and their excruciatingly 
painful attempts at commonplace conversation in the pub- 
licity of the carriage ! (She had felt that that part of the 
enterprise had not been very well devised by Gerald.) And 
at last London ; the thousands of cabs, the fabulous streets, 
the general roar, all dream-surpassing, intensifying to an 
extraordinary degree the obsession of unreality, the illusion 
that she could not really have done what she had done, that 
she was not really doing what she was doing ! 

Supremely and finally, the delicious torture of the clutch of 
terror at her heart as she moved by Gerald's side through the 
impossible adventure ! Who was this rash, mad Sophia ? 
Surely not herself ! 

The knock at the door was impatiently repeated. 

" Come in," she said timidly. 

Gerald Scales came in. Yes, beneath that mien of a com- 
mercial traveller who has been everywhere and through 
everything, he was very nervous. It was her privacy that, 
with her consent, he had invaded. He had engaged the bed- 
room only with the intention of using it as a retreat for 
Sophia until the evening, when they were to resume their 
travels. It ought not to have had any disturbing signifi- 
cance. But the mere disorder on the washstand, a towel 
lying on one of the cane chairs, made him feel that he was 









THE ELOPEMENT. 281 

affronting decency, and so increased his jaunty nervousness. 
The moment was painful ; the moment was difficult beyond 
his skill to handle it naturally. 

Approaching her with factitious ease, he kissed her through 
her veil, which she then lifted with an impulsive movement, 
and he kissed her again, more ardently, perceiving that her 
ardour was exceeding his. This was the first time they had 
been alone together since her flight from Axe. And yet, 
with his worldly experience, he was naive enough to be sur- 
prised that he could not put all the heat of passion into his 
embrace, and he wondered why he was not thrilled at the 
contact with her ! However, the powerful clinging of her lips 
somewhat startled his senses, and also delighted him by its 
silent promise. He could smell the stuff of her veil, the 
sarsenet of her bodice, and, as it were wrapped in these 
odours as her body was wrapped in its clothes, the faint 
fleshly perfume of her body itself. Her face, viewed so close 
that he could see the almost imperceptible down on those 
fruit-like cheeks, was astonishingly beautiful ; the dark eyes 
were exquisitely misted ; and he could feel the secret loyalty 
of her soul ascending to him. She was very slightly taller 
than her lover ; but somehow she hung from him, her body 
curved backwards, and her bosom pressed against his, so that 
instead of looking up at her gaze he looked down at it. He 
preferred that ; perfectly proportioned though he was, his 
stature was a delicate point with him. His spirits rose by 
the uplift of his senses. His fears slipped away ; he began 
to be very satisfied with himself. He was the inheritor of 
twelve thousand pounds, and he had won this unique crea- 
ture. She was his capture ; he held her close, permittedly 
scanning the minutiae of her skin, permittedly crushing 
her flimsy silks. Something in him had forced her to lay her 
modesty on the altar of his desire. And the sun brightly 
shone. So he kissed her yet more ardently, and with the 
slightest touch of a victor's condescension ; and her burning 
response more than restored the self-confidence which he had 
been losing. 

" I've got no one but you now," she murmured in a melt- 
ing voice. 

She fancied in her ignorance that the expression of this 
sentiment would please him. She was not aware that a man 
is usually rather chilled by it, because it proves to him that 
the other is thinking about his responsibilities and not about 
his privileges. Certainly it calmed Gerald, though without 
imparting to him her sense of his responsibilities. He 
smiled vaguely. To Sophia his smile was a miracle con- 



282 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 






tinually renewed ; it mingled dashing gaiety with a hint of 
wistful appeal in a manner that never failed to bewitch her. 
A less innocent girl than Sophia might have divined from 
that adorable half-feminine smile that she could do any- 
thing with Gerald except rely on him. But Sophia had to 
learn. 

" Are you ready ? " he asked, placing his hands on her 
shoulders and holding her away from him. 

" Yes," she said, nerving herself. Their faces were still 
very near together. 

" Well, would you like to go and see the Dor6 pictures ? " 

A simple enough question ! A proposal felicitous enough ! 
Dor6 was becoming known even in the Five Towns, not, 
assuredly, by his illustrations to the Contes Drolatiques of 
Balzac, but by his shuddering Biblical conceits. In pious 
circles Dor6 was saving art from the reproach of futility 
and frivolity. It was indubitably a tasteful idea on Gerald's 
part to take his love of a summer's afternoon to gaze at the 
originals of those prints which had so deeply impressed the 
Five Towns. It was an idea that sanctified the profane 
adventure. 

Yet Sophia showed signs of affliction. Her colour went 
and came ; her throat made the motion of swallowing ; 
there was a muscular contraction over her whole body. And 
she drew herself from him. Her glance, however, did not 
leave him, and his eyes fell before hers. 

" But what about the wedding ? " she breathed. 

That sentence seemed to cost all her pride ; but she was 
obliged to utter it, and to pay for it. 

" Oh," he said lightly and quickly, just as though she had 
reminded him of a detail that might have been forgotten, 
" I was just going to tell you. It can't be done here. There's 
been some change in the rules. I only found out for certain 
late last night. But I've ascertained that it'll be as simple 
as A B C before the English Consul at Paris ; and as I've 
got the tickets for us to go over to-night, as we arranged . . ." 
He stopped. 

She sat down on the towel-covered chair, staggered. She 
believed what he said. She did not suspect that he was using 
the classic device of the seducer. It was his casualness that 
staggered her. Had it really been his intention to set off on 
an excursion and remark as an afterthought : " By the way, 
we can't be married as I told you at half -past two to-day " ? 
Despite her extreme ignorance and innocence, Sophia held a 
high opinion of her own commonsense and capacity for look- 
ing after herself, and she could scarcely believe that he was 



THE ELOPEMENT. 283 

expecting her to go to Paris, and at night, without being 
married. She looked pitiably young, virgin, raw, unsophisti- 
cated ; helpless in the midst of dreadful dangers. Yet her 
head was full of a blank astonishment at being mistaken for 
a simpleton ! The sole explanation could be that Gerald, 
in some matters, must himself be a confiding simpleton. He 
had not reflected. He had not sufficiently realized the im- 
mensity of her sacrifice in flying with him even to London. 
She felt sorry for him. She had the woman's first glimpse of 
the necessity for some adjustment of outlook as an essential 
preliminary to uninterrupted happiness. 

" It'll be all right ! " Gerald persuasively continued. 

He looked at her, as she was not looking at him. She was 
nineteen. But she seemed to him utterly mature and mys- 
terious. Her face baffled him ; her mind was a foreign land. 
Helpless in one sense she might be ; yet she, and not he, stood 
for destiny ; the future lay in the secret and capricious work- 
ings of that mind. 

" Oh no ! " she exclaimed curtly. " Oh no ! " 

' Oh no what ? " 

" We can't possibly go like that," she said. 

" But don't I tell you it'll be all right ? " he protested. 
" If we stay here and they come after you . . . ! Besides, 
I've got the tickets and all." 

" Why didn't you tell me sooner ? " she demanded. 

" But how could I ? " he grumbled. " Have we had a 
single minute alone ? " 

This was nearly true. They could not have discussed the 
formalities of marriage in the crowded train, nor during the 
hurried lunch with a dozen cocked ears at the same table. 
He saw himself on sure ground here. 

" Now, could we ? " he pressed. 

' And you talk about going to see pictures ! " was her 
reply. 

Undoubtedly this had been a grave error of tact. He 
recognized that it was a stupidity. And so he resented it, 
as though she had committed it and not he. 

" My dear girl," he said, hurt, " I acted for the best. It 
isn't my fault if rules ar,e altered and officials silly." 

" You ought to have told me before," she persisted sul- 
lenly. 

" But how could I ? " 

He almost believed in that moment that he had really in- 
tended to marry her, and that the ineptitudes of red-tape 
had prevented him from achieving his honourable purpose ; 
whereas he had done nothing whatever towards the marriage. 



284 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Oh no ! Oh no ! " she repeated, with heavy lip and 
liquid eye. " Oh no ! " 

He gathered that she was flouting his suggestion of Paris. 

Slowly and nervously he approached her. She did not 
stir nor look up. Her glance was fixed on the washstand. 
He bent down and murmured : 

" Come, now. It'll be all right. You'll travel in the ladies' 
saloon on the steam -packet." 

She did not stir. He bent lower and touched the back of 
her neck with his lips. And she sprang up, sobbing and 
angry. Because she was mad for him she hated him furiously. 
All tenderness had vanished. 

" I'll thank you not to touch me ! " she said fiercely. She 
had given him her lips a moment ago, but now to graze her 
neck was an insult. 

He smiled sheepishly. " But really you must be reason- 
able," he argued. " What have I done ? " 

" It's what you haven't done, I think ! " she cried. " Why 
didn't you tell me while we were in the cab ? " 

" I didn't care to begin worrying you just then," he re- 
plied : which was exactly true. 

The fact was, he had of course shirked telling her that no 
marriage would occur that day. Not being a professional 
seducer of young girls, he lacked skill to do a difficult thing 
simply. 

" Now come along, little girl," he went on, with just a 
trifle of impatience. " Let's go out and enjoy ourselves. I 
assure you that everything will be all right in Paris." 

" That's what you said about coming to London," she 
retorted sarcastically through her' sobs. " And look at 
you ! " 

Did he imagine for a single instant that she would have 
come to London with him save on the understanding that 
she was to be married immediately upon arrival ? This atti- 
tude of an indignant question was not to be reconciled with 
her belief that his excuses for himself were truthful. But 
she did not remark the discrepancy. 

Her sarcasm wounded his vanity. 

". Oh, very well ! " he muttered. " If you don't choose to 
believe what I say ! " He shrugged' his shoulders. 

She said nothing ; but the sobs swept at intervals through 
her frame, shaking it. 

Reading hesitation in her face, he tried again. " Come 
along, little girl. And wipe your eyes." And he approached 
her. She stepped back. 

" No, no ! " she denied him, passionately. He had es- 



THE ELOPEMENT. 285 

teemed her too cheaply. And she did not care to be called 
" little girl." 

" Then what shall you do ? " he inquired, in a tone which 
blended mockery and bullying. She was making a fool of 
him. 

" I can tell you what I shan't do," she said. " I shan't 
go to Paris." Her sobs were less frequent. 

" That's not my question," he said icily. " I want to 
know what you will do." 

There was now no pretence of affectionateness either on 
her part or on his. They might, to judge from their attitudes, 
have been nourished from infancy on mutual hatred. 

" What's that got to do with you ? " she demanded. 

" It's got everything to do with me," he said. 

" Well, you can go and find out ! " she said. 

It was girlish ; it was childish ; it was scarcely according 
to the canons for conducting a final rupture ; but it was not 
the less tragically serious. Indeed, the spectacle of this 
young girl absurdly behaving like one in a serious crisis in- 
creased the tragicalness of the situation even if it did not 
heighten it. The idea that ran through Gerald's brain was 
the ridiculous folly of having anything to do with young 
girls. He was quite blind to her beauty. 

" ' Go ' ? " he repeated her word. " You mean that ? " 

" Of course I mean it," she answered promptly. 

The coward in him urged him to take advantage of her 
ignorant, helpless pride, and leave her at her word. He re- 
membered the scene she had made at the pit shaft, and he 
said to himself that her charm was not worth her temper, 
and that he was a fool ever to have dreamed that it was, and 
that be would be doubly a fool now not to seize the oppor- 
tunity of withdrawing from an insane enterprise. 

" I am to go ?" he asked, with a sneer. 

She nodded. 

" Of course if you order me to leave you, I must. Can I 
do anything for you ? " 

She signified that he could not. 

" Nothing ? You're sure ? " 

She frowned. 

" Well, then, good-bye." He turned towards the door. 

" I suppose you'd leave me here without money or any- 
thing ? " she said hi a cold, cutting voice. And her sneer 
was far more destructive than his. It destroyed in him the 
last trace of compassion for her. 

" Oh, I beg pardon ! " he said, and swaggeringly counted 
out five sovereigns on to a chest of drawers. 



286 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

She rushed at them. " Do you think I'll take your odious 
money ? " she snarled, gathering the coins in her gloved 
hand. 

Her first impulse was to throw them in his face ; but she 
paused and then flung them into a corner of the room. 

" Pick them up ! " she commanded him. 

" No, thanks," he said briefly ; and left, shutting the door. 

Only a very little while, and they bad been lovers, exuding 
tenderness with every gesture, like a perfume ! Only a very 
little while, and she had been deciding to telegraph con- 
descendingly to her mother that she was " all right " 1 And 
now the dream was utterly dissolved. And the voice of that 
hard commonsense which spake to her in her wildest moods 
grew loud in asserting that the enterprise could never have 
come to any good, that it was from its inception an impossible 
enterprise, unredeemed by the slightest justification. An 
enormous folly ! Yes, an elopement ; but not like a real 
elopement ; always unreal ! She had always known that 
it was only an imitation of an elopement, and must end in 
some awful disappointment. She had never truly wanted 
to run away ; but something within her had pricked her 
forward in spite of her protests. The strict notions of her 
elderly relatives were right after all. It was she who had 
been wrong. And it was she who would have to pay. 

" I've been a wicked girl," she said to herself grimly, in 
the midst of her ruin. - 

She faced the fact. But she would not repent ; at any rate 
she would never sit on that stool. She would not exchange 
the remains of her pride for the means of escape from the 
worst misery that hie could offer. On that point she knew 
herself. And she set to work to repair and renew her 
pride. 

Whatever happened she would not return to the Five Towns. 
She could not, because she had stolen money from her Aunt 
Harriet. As much as she had thrown back at Gerald, she 
had filched from her aunt, but in the form of a note. A 
prudent, mysterious instinct had moved her to take this 
precaution. And she was glad. She would never have 
been able to dart that sneer at Gerald about money if she 
had really needed money. So she rejoiced in her crime ; 
though since Aunt Harriet would assuredly discover the loss 
at once, the crime eternally prevented her from going back 
to her family. Never, never would she look at her mother 
with the eyes of a thief ! 

(In truth Aunt Harriet did discover the loss, and very 
creditably said naught about it to anybody. The know- 






THE ELOPEMENT. 287 

ledge of it would have twisted the knife in the maternal 
heart.) 

Sophia was also glad that she had refused to proceed to 
Paris. The recollection of her firmness in refusing nattered 
her vanity as a girl convinced that she could take care of 
herself. To go to Paris unmarried would have been an in- 
conceivable madness. The mere thought of the enormity 
did outrage to her moral susceptibilities. No, Gerald had 
most perfectly mistaken her for another sort of girl ; as, for 
instance, a shop-assistant or a barmaid ! 

With this the catalogue of her satisfactions ended. She 
had no idea at all as to what she ought to do, or could do. 
The mere prospect of venturing out of the room intimidated 
her. Had Gerald left her trunk in the hall ? Of course he 
had. What a question ! But what would happen to her ? 
London . . . London had merely dazed her. She could do 
nothing for herself. She was as helpless as a rabbit in Lon- 
don. She drew aside the window- curtain and had a glimpse 
of the river. It was inevitable that she should think of 
suicide ; for she could not suppose that any girl had ever 
got herself into a plight more desperate than hers. " I could 
slip out at night and drown myself," she thought seriously. 
" A nice thing that would be for Gerald ! " 

Then loneliness, like a black midnight, overwhelmed her, 
swiftly wasting her strength, disintegrating her pride in its 
horrid flood. She glanced about for support, as a woman 
in the open street who feels she is going to faint, and went 
blindly to the bed, falling on it with the upper part of her 
body, in an attitude of abandonment. She wept, but without 
sobbing. 



II. 

Gerald Scales walked about the Strand, staring up at its 
high narrow houses, crushed one against another as though 
they had been packed, unsorted, by a packer who thought 
of nothing but economy of space. Except by Somerset 
House, King's College, and one or two theatres and banks, 
the monotony of mean shops, with several storeys unevenly 
perched over them, was unbroken. Then Gerald encountered 
Exeter Hall, and examined its prominent fa9ade with a pro- 
vincial's eye ; for despite his travels he was not very familiar 
with London. Exeter Hall naturally took his mind back 
to his Uncle Boldero, that great and ardent Nonconformist, 
and his own godly youth. It was laughable to muse upon 



288 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

what his uncle would say and think, did the old man know 
that his nephew had run away with a girl, meaning to seduce 
her in Paris. It was enormously funny ! 

However, he had done with all that. He was well out of 
it. She had told him to go, and he had gone. She had 
money to get home ; she had nothing to do but use the 
tongue in her head. The rest was her affair. He would go 
to Paris alone, and find another amusement. It was absurd 
to have supposed that Sophia would ever have suited him. 
Not in such a family as the Baineses could one reasonably 
expect to discover an ideal mistress. No ! there had been 
a mistake. The whole business was wrong. She had nearly 
made a fool of him. But he was not the man to be made a 
fool of. He had kept his dignity intact. 

So he said to himself. Yet all the time his dignity, and 
his pride also, were bleeding, dropping invisible blood along 
the length of the Strand pavements. 

He was at Salisbury Street again. He pictured her in the 
bedroom. Damn her ! He wanted her. He wanted her with 
an excessive desire. He hated to think that he had been 
baulked. He hated to think that she would remain immacu- 
late. And he continued to picture her in the exciting privacy 
of that cursed bedroom. 

Now he was walking down Salisbury Street. He did not 
wish to be walking down Salisbury Street ; but there he 
was ! 

" Oh, hell ! " he murmured. " I suppose I must go through 
with it." 

He felt desperate. He was ready to pay any price in order 
to be able to say to himself that he had accomplished what 
he had set his heart on. 

" My wife hasn't gone out, has she ? " he asked of the hall- 
porter. 

" I'm not sure, sir ; I think not," said the hall-porter. 

The fear that Sophia had already departed made him sick. 
When he noticed her trunk still there, he took hope and ran 
upstairs. 

He saw her, a dark crumpled, sinuous piece of humanity, 
half on and half off the bed, silhouetted against the bluish- 
white counterpane ; her hat was on the floor, with the spotted 
veil trailing away from it. This sight seemed to him to be 
the most touching that he had ever seen, though her face 
was hidden. He forgot everything except the deep and 
strange emotion which affected him. He approached the 
bed. She did not stir. 

Having heard the entry and knowing that it must be 



THE ELOPEMENT. 289 

Gerald who had entered, Sophia forced herself to remain still. 
A wild, splendid hope shot up in her. Constrained by all 
the power of her will not to move, she could not stifle a sob 
that had lain in ambush in her throat. 

The sound of the sob fetched tears to the eyes of Gerald. 

" Sophia ! " he appealed to her. 

But she did not stir. Another sob shook her. 

" Very well, then," said Gerald. " We'll stay in London 
till we can be married. I'll arrange it. I'll find a nice 
boarding-house for you,, and I'll tell the people you're my 
cousin. I shall stay on at this hotel, and "ill come and see 
you every day." 

A silence. 

" Thank you ! " she blubbered. " Thank you ! " 

He saw that her little gloved hand was stretching out 
towards him, like a feeler ; and he seized it, and knelt down 
and took her clumsily by the waist. Somehow he dared not 
kiss her yet. 

An immense relief surged very slowly through them both. 

" I I really " She began to say something, but the 

articulation was lost in her sobs. 

" What ? What do you say, dearest ? " he questioned 
eagerly. 

And she made another effort. " I really couldn't have 
gone to Paris with you without being married," she succeeded 
at last. " I really couldn't." 

" No, no ! " he soothed her. " Of course you couldn't. 
It was I who was wrong. But you didn't know how I felt. 
. . . Sophia, it's all right now, isn't it ? " 

She sat up and kissed him fairly. 

It was so wonderful and startling that he burst openly into 
tears. She saw in the facile intensity of his emotion a 
guarantee of their future happiness. And as he had soothed 
her, so now she soothed him. They clung together, equally 
surprised at the sweet, exquisite, blissful melancholy which 
drenched them through and through. It was remorse for 
having quarrelled, for having lacked faith in the supreme 
tightness of the high adventure. Everything was right, 
and would be right ; and they had been criminally absurd. 
It was remorse ; but it was pure bliss, and worth the quarrel ! 
Gerald resumed his perfection again in her eyes ! He was 
the soul of goodness and honour ! And for him she was 
again the ideal mistress, who would, however, be also a wife. 
As in his mind he rapidly ran over the steps necessary to 
their marriage, he kept saying to himself, far off in some 
remote cavern of the brain : "I shall have her ! I shall have 

10 



290 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

her ! " He did not reflect that this fragile slip of the Baines 
stock, unconsciously drawing upon the accumulated strength 
of generations of honest living, had put a defeat upon him. 

After tea, Gerald, utterly content with the universe, re- 
deemed his word and found an irreproachable boarding-house 
for Sophia in Westminster, near the Abbey. She was as- 
tonished at the glibness of his lies to the landlady about her, 
and about their circumstances generally. He also found a 
church and a parson, close by, and in half an hour the for- 
malities preliminary to a marriage were begun. He explained 
to her that as she was now resident in London, it would be 
simpler to recommence the business entirely. She saga- 
ciously agreed. As she by no means wished to wound him 
again, she made no inquiry about those other formalities 
which, owing to red-tape, had so unexpectedly proved 
abortive ! She knew she was going to be married, and that 
sufficed. The next day she carried out her filial idea of 
telegraphing to her mother. 



CHAPTER II. 

SUPPER. 
I. 

THEY had been to Versailles and had dined there. A tram 
had sufficed to take them out ; but for the return, Gerald, 
who had been drinking champagne, would not be content with 
less than a carriage. Further, he insisted on entering Paris 
by way of the Bois and the Arc de Triomphe. Thoroughly 
to appease his conceit, it would have been necessary to swing 
open the gates of honour in the Arc and allow his fiacre to 
pass through ; to be forced to drive round the monument 
instead of under it hurt the sense of fitness which champagne 
engenders. Gerald was in all his pride that day. He had 
been displaying the wonders to Sophia, and he could not 
escape the cicerone's secret feeling : that he himself was 
somehow responsible for the wonders. Moreover, he was 
exceedingly satisfied with the effect produced by Sophia. 

Sophia, on arriving in Paris with the ring on her trium- 
phant finger, had timidly mentioned the subject of frocks. 
None would have guessed from her tone that she was pos- 
sessed by the desire for French clothes as by a devil. She had 
been surprised and delighted by the eagerness of Gerald's 
response. Gerald, too, was possessed by a devil. He thirsted 
to see her in French clothes. He knew some of the shops 
and ateliers in the Rue de la Paix, the Rue de la Chausse"e 
d'Antin, and the Palais Royal. He was much more skilled 
in the lore of frocks than she, for his previous business in 
Paris had brought him into relations with the great firms ; 
and Sophia suffered a brief humiliation in the discovery that 
his private opinion of her dresses was that they were not 
dresses at all. She had been aware that they were not 
Parisian, nor even of London ; but she had thought them 
pretty good. It healed her wound, however, to reflect that 




292 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Gerald had so marvellously kept his own counsel in order to 
spare her self-love. Gerald had taken her to an establish- 
ment in the Chaussee d'Antin. It was not one of what Gerald 
called les grandes maisons, but it was on the very fringe of 
them, and the real haute couture was practised therein ; and 
Gerald was remembered there by name. 

Sophia had gone in trembling and ashamed, yet in her 
heart courageously determined to emerge uncompromis- 
ingly French. But the models frightened her. They sur- 
passed even the most fantastic things that she had seen in 
the streets. She recoiled before them and seemed to hide 
for refuge in Gerald, as it were appealing to him for moral 
protection, and answering to him instead of to the saleswoman 
when the saleswoman offered remarks in stiff English. The 
prices also frightened her. The simplest trifle here cost 
sixteen pounds ; and her mother's historic " silk," whose 
elaborateness had cost twelve pounds, was supposed to 
have approached the inexpressible ! Gerald said that she 
was not to think about prices. She was, however, forced 
by some instinct to think about prices she who at home 
had scorned the narrowness of life in the Square. In the 
Square she was understood to be quite without common- 
sense, hopelessly imprudent ; yet here, a spring of sagacity 
seemed to be welling up in her all the time, a continual anti- 
dote against the general madness in which she found herself. 
With extraordinary rapidity she had formed a habit of 
preaching moderation to Gerald. She hated to " see money 
thrown away," and her notion of the boundary line between 
throwing money away and judiciously spending it was still 
the notion of the Square. 

Gerald would laugh. But she would say, piqued and 
blushing, but self-sure : " You can laugh ! " It was all 
deliciously agreeable. 

On this evening she wore the first of the new costumes. 
She had worn it all day. Characteristically she had chosen 
something which was not too special for either afternoon or 
evening, for either warm or cold weather. It was of pale blue 
taffetas striped in a darker blue, with the corsage cut in 
basques, and the underskirt of a similar taffetas, but un- 
striped. The effect of the ornate overskirt falling on the 
plain underskirt with its small double volant was, she thought, 
and Gerald too, adorable. The waist was higher than any 
she had had before, and the crinoline expansive. Tied round 
her head with a large bow and flying blue ribbons under the 
chin, was a fragile flat capote like a baby's bonnet, which 
allowed her hair to escape in front and her great chignon 



SUPPER. 293 

behind. A large spotted veil flew out from the capote over 
the chignon. Her double skirts waved amply over Gerald's 
knees in the carriage, and she leaned back against the hard 
cushions and put an arrogant look into her face, and thought 
of nothing but the intense throbbing joy of life, longing with 
painful ardour for more and more pleasure, then and for ever. 

As the carriage slipped downwards through the wide, 
empty gloom of the Champs Elysees into the brilliant Paris 
that was waiting for them, another carriage drawn by two 
white horses flashed upwards and was gone in dust. Its 
only occupant, except the coachman and footman, was a 
woman. Gerald stared after it. 

" By Jove ! " he exclaimed. " That's Hortense ! " 

It might have been Hortense, or it might not. But he 
instantly convinced himself that it was. Not every evening 
did one meet Hortense driving alone in the Champs Elysees, 
and in August too ! 

Hortense ? " Sophia asked simply. 
Yes. Hortense Schneider." 
Who is she ? " 

You've never heard of Hortense Schneider ? " 
' No ! " 

Well ! Have you ever heard of Offenbach ? " 
' I I don't know. I don't think so." 

He had the mien of utter incredulity. " You don't mean 
to say you've never heard of Bluebeard ? " 

" I've heard of Bluebeard, of course," said she. " Who 
hasn't ? " 

" I mean the opera Offenbach's." 

She shook her head, scarce knowing even what an opera 
was. 

" Well, well ! What next ? " 

He implied that such ignorance stood alone in his experi- 
ence. Really he was delighted at the cleanness of the slate 
on which he had to write. And Sophia was not a bit alarmed. 
She relished instruction from his lips. It was a pleasure to 
her to learn from that exhaustless store of worldly knowledge. 
To the world she would do her best to assume omniscience 
in its ways, but to him, in her present mood, she liked to play 
the ignorant, uninr^ted little thing. 

" Why," he said, the Schneider has been the rage since 
last year but one. Absolutely the rage." 

" I do wish I'd noticed her ! " said Sophia. 

" As soon as the Varietes reopens we'll go and see her," 
he replied, and then gave his detailed version of the career of 
Hortense Schneider. 






294 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

More joys for her in the near future ! She had yet scarcely 
penetrated the crust of her bliss. She exulted in the dazzling 
destiny which comprised freedom, fortune, eternal gaiety, and 
the exquisite Gerald. 

As they crossed the Place de la Concorde, she inquired, 
" Are we going back to the hotel ? " 

" No," he said. " I thought we'd go and have supper 
somewhere, if it isn't too early." 

" After all that dinner ? " 

" All what dinner ? You ate about five times as much as 
me, anyhow ! " 

" Oh, I'm ready ! " she said. 

She was. This day, because it was the first day of her 
French frock, she regarded as her debut in the dizzy life of 
capitals. She existed in a rapture of bliss, an ecstasy which 
could feel no fatigue, either of body or spirit. 



II. 

It was after midnight when they went into the Restau- 
rant Sylvain ; Gerald, having decided not to go to the hotel, 
had changed his mind and called there, and having called 
there, had remained a long time : this of course ! Sophia 
was already accustoming herself to the idea that, with Gerald, 
it was impossible to predict accurately more than five 
minutes of the future. 

As the chasseur held open the door for them to enter, and 
Sophia passed modestly into the glowing yellow interior of 
the restaurant, followed by Gerald in his character of man-of- 
the- world, they drew the attention of Sylvain 's numerous 
and glittering guests. No face could have made a more 
provocative contrast to the women's faces in those screened 
rooms than the face of Sophia, so childlike between the 
baby's bonnet and the huge bow of ribbon, so candid, so 
charmingly conscious of its own pure beauty and of the fact 
that she was no longer a virgin, but the equal in knowledge 
of any woman alive. She saw around her, clustered about 
the white tables, multitudes of violently red lips, powdered 
cheeks, cold, hard eyes, self-possessed arrogant faces, and 
insolent bosoms. What had impressed her more than any- 
thing else in Paris, more even than the three-horsed omni- 
buses, was the extraordinary self-assurance of all the women, 
their unashamed posing, their calm acceptance of the public 
gaze. They seemed to say : " We are the renowned Pan- 



SUPPER. 295 

siennes." They frightened her : they appeared to her so 
corrupt and so proud in their corruption. She had already 
seen a dozen women in various situations of conspicuousness 
apply powder to their complexions with no more ado than if 
they had been giving a pat to their hair. She could not 
understand such boldness. As for them, they marvelled at 
the phenomena presented in Sophia's person ; they admired ; 
they admitted the style of the gown ; but they envied neither 
her innocence nor her beauty ; they envied nothing but her 
youth and the fresh tint of her cheeks. 

" Encore des Anglais ! " said some of them, as if that ex- 
plained all. 

Gerald had a very curt way with waiters ; and the more 
obsequious they were, the haughtier he became ; and a head- 
waiter was no more to him than a sculh'on. He gave loud- 
voiced orders in French of which both he and Sophia were 
proud, and a table was laid for them in a corner near one of 
the large windows. Sophia settled herself on the bench of 
green velvet, and began- to ply the ivory fan which Gerald 
had given her. It was very hot ; all the windows were wide 
open, and the sounds of the street mingled clearly with the 
tinkle of the supper-room. Outside, against a sky of deepest 
purple, Sophia could discern the black skeleton of a gigantic 
building ; it was the new opera house. 

" All sorts here ! " said Gerald, contentedly, after he had 
ordered iced soup and sparkling Moselle. Sophia did not 
know what Moselle was, but she imagined that anything 
would be better than champagne. 

Sylvain's was then typical of the Second Empire, and 
particularly famous as a supper-room. Expensive and gay, 
it provided, with its discreet decorations, a sumptuous scene 
where lorettes, actresses, respectable women, and an occa- 
sional grisette in luck, could satisfy their curiosity as to each 
other. In its catholicity it was highly correct as a resort ; 
not many other restaurants in the centre could have suc- 
cessfully fought against the rival attractions of the Bois and 
the dim groves of the Champs Elysees on a night in August. 
The complicated richness of the dresses, the yards and 
yards of fine stitchery, the endless niching, the hints, more or 
less incautious, of ' nether treasures of embroidered linen ; 
and, leaping over all this to the eye, the vivid colourings 
of silks and muslins, veils, plumes and flowers, piled as it 
were pell-mell in heaps on the universal green cushions to 
the furthest vista of the restaurant, and all multiplied in 
gilt mirrors the spectacle intoxicated Sophia. Her eyes 
gleamed. She drank the soup with eagerness, and tasted 



296 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

the wine, though no desire on her part to like wine could 
make her like it ; and then, seeing pineapples on a large 
table covered with fruits, she told Gerald that she should like 
some pineapple, and Gerald ordered one. 

She gathered her self-esteem and her wits together, and 
began to give Gerald her views on the costumes. She could 
do so with impunity, because her own was indubitably 
beyond criticism. Some she wholly condemned, and there 
was not one which earned her unreserved approval. All 
the absurd fastidiousness of her schoolgirlish provinciality 
emerged in that eager, affected torrent of remarks. How- 
ever, she was clever enough to read, after a time, in Gerald's 
tone and features, that she was making a tedious fool of 
herself. And she adroitly shifted her criticism from the 
taste to the work she put a strong accent on the word 
and pronounced that to be miraculous beyond description. 
She reckoned that she knew what dressmaking and millinery 
were, and her little fund of expert knowledge caused her to 
picture a whole necessary cityful of. girls stitching, stitching, 
and stitching day and night. She had wondered, during the 
few odd days that they had spent in Paris, between visits to 
Chantilly and other places, at the massed luxury of the 
shops ; she had wondered, starting with St. Luke's Square 
as a standard, how they could all thrive. But now in her 
first real glimpse of the banal and licentious profusion of one 
among a hundred restaurants, she wondered that the shops 
were so few. She thought how splendid was all this expen- 
siveness for trade. Indeed, the notions chasing each other 
within that lovely and foolish head were a surprising medley. 

" Well, what do you think of Sylvain's ? Gerald asked, 
impatient to be assured that his Sylvain's had duly over- 
whelmed her. 

" Oh, Gerald ! " she murmured, indicating that speech 
was inadequate. And she just furtively touched his hand 
with hers. 

The ennui due to her critical disquisition on the short- 
comings of Parisian costume cleared away from Gerald's 
face. 

" What do you suppose those people are talking about ? " 
he said with a jerk of the head towards a chattering group 
of three gorgeous lorettes and two middle-aged men at the 
next table but one. 

" What are they talking about ? " 

" They're talking about the execution of the murderer 
Rivain that takes place at Auxerre the day after to-morrow. 
They're arranging to make up a party and go and see it." 



SUPPER. 297 

Oh, what a horrid idea ! " said Sophia. 
Guillotine, you know ! " said Gerald. 
But can people see it ? " 
Yes, of course." 
Well, T think it's horrible." 

Yes, that's why people like to go and see it. Besides, 
the man isn't an ordinary sort of criminal at all. He's very 
young and good-loqking, and well-connected. And he killed 
the celebrated Claudine ..." 

" Claudine ? " 

" Claudine Jacquinot. Of course you wouldn't know. 
She was a tremendous er wrong 'un here in the forties. 
Made a lot of money, and retired to her native town." 

Sophia, in spite of her efforts to maintain the role of a 
woman who has nothing to learn, blushed. 

" Then she was older than he is." 

" Thirty-five years older, if a day." 

" What did he kill her for ? " 

" She wouldn't give him enough money. She was his 
mistress or rather one of 'em. He wanted money for a 
young lady friend, you see. He killed her and took all the 
jewels she was wearing. Whenever he went to see her she 
always wore all her best jewels and you may bet a woman 
like that had a few. It seems she had been afraid for a long 
time that he meant to do for her." 

" Then why did she see him ? And why did she wear her 
jewels ? " 

" Because she liked being afraid, goose ! Some women 
only enjoy themselves when they're terrified. Queer, isn't 
it ? " 

Gerald insisted on meeting his wife's gaze as he finished 
these revelations. He pretended that such stories were the 
commonest things on earth, and that to be scandalized by 
them was infantile. Sophia, thrust suddenly into a strange 
civilization perfectly frank in its sensuality and its sensuous- 
ness, under the guidance of a young man to whom her half- 
formed intelligence was a most diverting toy Sophia felt 
mysteriously uncomfortable, disturbed by sinister, flitting 
phantoms of ideas which she only dimly apprehended. Her 
eyes fell. Gerald laughed self-consciously. She would not 
eat any more pineapple. 

Immediately afterwards there came into the restaurant an 
apparition which momentarily stopped every conversation in 
the room. It was a tall and mature woman who wore over a 
dress of purplish-black silk a vast flowing sortie de bal of 
vermilion velvet, looped and tasselled with gold. No other 

10 a 



298 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

costume could live by the side of that garment, Arab in shape, 
Russian in colour, and Parisian in style. It blazed. The 
woman's heavy coiffure was bound with fillets of gold braid 
and crimson rosettes. She was followed by a young English- 
man in evening dress and whiskers of the most exact cor- 
rectness. The woman sailed, a little breathlessly, to a table 
next to Gerald's, and took possession of it with an air of use, 
almost of tedium. She sat down, threw the cloak from her 
majestic bosom, and expanded her chest. Seeming to ignore 
the Englishman, who superciliously assumed the seat oppo- 
site to her, she let her large scornful eyes travel round the 
restaurant, slowly and imperiously meeting the curiosity 
which she had evoked. Her beauty had undoubtedly been 
dazzling, it was still effulgent ; but the blossom was about to 
fall. She was admirably rouged and powdered ; her arms 
were glorious ; her lashes were long. There was little fault, 
save the excessive ripeness of a blonde who fights in vain 
against obesity. And her clothes combined audacity with 
the propriety of fashion. She carelessly deposed costly 
trinkets on the table, and then, having intimidated the whole 
company, she accepted the menu from the head-waiter and 
began to study it. 

" That's one of 'em ! " Gerald whispered to Sophia. 

" One of what ? " Sophia whispered. 

Gerald raised his eyebrows warningly, and winked. The 
Englishman had overheard ; and a look of frigid displeasure 
passed across his proud face. Evidently he belonged to a 
rank much higher than Gerald's ; and Gerald, though he 
could always comfort himself by the thought that he had 
been to a university with the best, felt his own inferiority and 
could not hide that he felt it. Gerald was wealthy ; he came 
of a wealthy family ; but he had not the habit of wealth. 
When he spent money furiously, he did it with bravado, too 
conscious of grandeur and too conscious of the difficulties of 
acquiring that which he threw away. For Gerald had earned 
money. This whiskered Englishman had never earned 
money, never known the value of it, never imagined himself 
without as much of it as he might happen to want. He had 
the face of one accustomed to give orders and to look down 
upon inferiors. He was absolutely sure of himself. That his 
companion chiefly ignored him did not appear to incommode 
him in the least. She spoke to him in French. He replied 
in English, very briefly ; and then, in English, he commanded 
the supper. As soon as the champagne was served he began 
to drink ; in the intervals of drinking he gently stroked his 
whiskers. The woman spoke no more. 



SUPPER. 299 

Gerald talked more loudly. With that aristocratic Eng- 
lishman observing him, he could not remain at ease. And 
not only did he talk more loudly ; he brought into his con- 
versation references to money, travels, and worldly experi- 
ences. While seeking to impress the Englishman, he was 
merely becoming ridiculous to the Englishman ; and ob- 
scurely he was aware of this. Sophia noticed and regretted 
it. Still, feeling very unimportant herself, she was recon- 
ciled to the superiority of the whiskered Englishman as to a 
natural fact. Gerald's behaviour slightly lowered him in her 
esteem. Then she looked at him at his well-shaped neat- 
ness, his vivacious face, his excellent clothes, and decided 
that he was much to be preferred to any heavy -jawed, long- 
nosed aristocrat alive. 

The woman whose vermilion cloak lay around her like a 
fortification spoke to her escort. He did not understand. 
He tried to express himself in French, and failed. Then the 
woman recommenced, talking at length. When she had done 
he shook his head. His acquaintance with French was 
limited to the vocabulary of food. 

" Guillotine ! " he murmured, the sole word of her discourse 
that he had understood. 

" Oui, oui ! Guillotine. Enfin . . . ! " cried the woman 
excitedly. Encouraged by her success in conveying even one 
word of her remarks, she began a third time. 

" Excuse me," said Gerald. " Madame is talking about 
the execution at Auxerre the day after to-morrow. N'est- 
ce-pas, madame, que vous parliez de Rivain ? " 

The Englishman glared angrily at Gerald's officious inter- 
ruption. But the woman smiled benevolently on Gerald, 
and insisted on talking to her friend through him. And the 
Englishman had to make the best of the situation. 

" There isn't a restaurant in Paris to-night where they 
aren't talking about that execution," said Gerald on his own 
account. 

" Indeed ! " observed the Englishman. 

Wine affected them in different ways. 

Now a fragile, short young Frenchman, with an ex- 
tremely pale face ending in a thin black imperial, appeared 
at the entrance. He looked about, and, recognizing the 
woman of the scarlet cloak, very discreetly saluted her. 
Then he saw Gerald, and his worn, fatigued features showed 
a sudden startled smile. He came rapidly forward, hat in 
hand, seized Gerald's palm and greeted him effusively. 

" My wife," said Gerald, with the solemn care of a man 
who is determined to prove that he is entirely sober. 



300 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

The young man became grave and excessively ceremoni- 
ous. He bowed low over Sophia's hand and kissed it. Her 
impulse was to laugh, but the gravity of the young man's 
deference stopped her. She glanced at Gerald, blushing, as 
if to say : " This comedy is not my fault." Gerald said 
something, the young man turned to him and liis face 
resumed its welcoming smile. 

" This is Monsieur Chirac," Gerald at length completed 
the introduction, " a friend of mine when I lived in 
Paris." 

He was proud to have met by accident an acquaintance in 
a restaurant. It demonstrated that he was a Parisian, and 
improved his standing with the whiskered Englishman and 
vermilion cloak. 

" It is the first time you come Paris, madame ? " Chirac 
addressed himself to Sophia, in limping, timorous English. 

" Yes," she giggled. He bowed again. 

Chirac, with his best compliments, felicitated Gerald upon 
his marriage. 

" Don't mention it ! " said the humorous Gerald in English, 
amused at his own wit ; and then : " What about this execu- 
tion ? " 

" Ah ! " replied Chirac, breathing out a long breath, and 
smiling at Sophia. " Rivain ! Rivain ! " He made a large, 
important gesture with his hand. 

It was at once to be seen that Gerald had touched the 
topic which secretly ravaged the supper-world as a sub- 
terranean fire ravages a mine. 

" I go ! " said Chirac, with pride, glancing at Sophia, who 
smiled, self-consciously. 

Chirac entered upon a conversation with Gerald in French. 
Sophia comprehended that Gerald was surprised and im- 
pressed by what Chirac told him and that Chirac in turn 
was surprised. Then Gerald laboriously found his pocket- 
book, and after some fumbling with it handed it to Chirac so 
that the latter might write in it. 

" Madame ! " murmured Chirac, resuming his ceremonious 
stiffness in order to take leave. " Alors, c'est entendu, mon 
cher ami ! " he said to Gerald, who nodded phlegmatically. 
And Chirac went away to the next table but one, where were 
the three lorettes and the two middle-aged men. He was 
received there with enthusiasm. 

Sophia began to be teased by a little fear that Gerald was 
not quite his usual self. She did not think of him as tipsy. 
The idea of his being tipsy would have shocked her. She did 
not think clearly at all. She was lost and dazed in the laby- 



SUPPER. 301 

rinth of new and vivid impressions into which Gerald had led 
her. But her prudence was awake. 

" I think I'm tired," she said in a low voice. 

" You don't want to go, do you ? " he asked, hurt. 

" Well " 

" Oh, wait a bit ! " 

The owner of the vermilion cloak spoke again to Gerald, 
who showed that he was flattered. While talking to her he 
ordered a brandy-and-soda. And then he could not refrain 
from displaying to her his familiarity with Parisian life, and 
he related how he had met Hortense Schneider behind a pair 
of white horses. The vermilion cloak grew even more soci- 
able at the mention of this resounding name, and chattered 
with the most agreeable vivacity. Her friend stared inimi- 
cally. 

" Do you hear that ? " Gerald explained to Sophia, who 
was sitting silent. " About Hortense Schneider you know, 
we met her to-night. It seems she made a bet of a louis with 
some fellow, and when he lost he sent her the louis set in 
diamonds worth a hundred thousand francs. That's how 
they go on here." 

" Oh ! " cried Sophia, further than ever in the labyrinth. 

" 'Scuse me," the Englishman put in heavily. He had 
heard the words " Hortense Schneider," " Hortense Schnei- 
der," repeating themselves in the conversation, and at last 
it had occurred to him that the conversation was about 
Hortense Schneider. " 'Scuse me," he began again. " Are 
you do you mean Hortense Schneider ? " 

" Yes," said Gerald. " We met her to-night." 

" She's in Trouville," said the Englishman, flatly. 

Gerald shook his head positively. 

" I gave a supper to her in Trouville last night," said the 
Englishman. " And she plays at the Casino Theatre to- 
night." 

Gerald was repulsed but not defeated. " What is she play- 
ing in to-night ? Tell me that ! " he sneered. 

" I don't see why I sh'd tell you." 

" Hm ! " Gerald retorted. " If what you say is true, it's a 
very strange thing I should have seen her in the Champs 
Elysees to-night, isn't it ? " 

The Englishman drank more wine. " If you want to in- 
sult me, sir " he began coldly. 

" Gerald ! " Sophia urged in a whisper. 

" Be quiet ! " Gerald snapped. 

A fiddler in fancy costume plunged into the restaurant at 
that moment and began to play wildly. The shock of his 



3 02 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

strange advent momentarily silenced the quarrel ; but soon 
it leaped up again, under the shelter of the noisy music, the 
common, tedious, tippler's quarrel. It rose higher and 
higher. The fiddler looked askance at it over his fiddle. 
Chirac cautiously observed it. Instead of attending to the 
music the festal company attended to the quarrel. Three 
waiters in a group watched it with an impartial sporting 
interest. The English voices grew more menacing. 

Then suddenly the whiskered Englishman, jerking his head 
towards the door, said more quietly : 

" Hadn't we better settle thish outside ? " 

" At your service ! " said Gerald, rising. 

The owner of the vermilion cloak lifted her eyebrows to 
Chirac in fatigued disgust, but she said nothing. Nor did 
Sophia say anything. Sophia was overcome by terror. 

The swain of the cloak, dragging his coat after him across 
the floor, left the restaurant without offering any apology or 
explanation to his lady. 

" Wait here for me," said Gerald defiantly to Sophia, 
shall be back in a minute." 

" But, Gerald ! " She put her hand on his sleeve, 
x He snatched his arm away. " Wait here for me, I tell 
you," he repeated. 

The doorkeeper obsequiously opened the door to the two 
unsteady carousers, for whom the fiddler drew back, still 
playing. 

Thus Sophia was left side by side with the vermilion cloak. 
She was quite helpless. All the pride of a married woman 
had abandoned her. She stood transfixed by intense shame, 
staring painfully at a pillar, to avoid the universal assault of 
eyes. She felt like an indiscreet little girl, and she looked 
like one. No youthful radiant beauty of features, no grace 
and style of a Parisian dress, no certificate of a ring, no .pre- 
mature initiation into the mysteries, could save her from the 
appearance of a raw fool whose foolishness had been her un- 
doing. Her face changed to its reddest, and remained at 
that, and all the fundamental innocence of her nature, which 
had been overlaid by the violent experiences of her brief com- 
panionship with Gerald, rose again to the surface with that 
blush. Her situation drew pity from a few hearts and a 
careless contempt from the rest. But since once more it 
was a question of ces Anglais, nobody could be astonished. 

Without moving her head, she twisted her eyes to the 
clock : half-past two. The fiddler ceased his dance and 
made a collection in his tasselled cap. The vermilion cloak 
threw a coin into the cap. Sophia stared at it moveless, 




SUPPER. 303 

until the fiddler, tired of waiting, passed to the next table 
and relieved her agony. She had no money at all. She set 
herself to watch the clock ; but its fingers would not stir. 

With an exclamation the lady of the cloak got up and 
peered out of the window, chatted with waiters, and then 
removed herself and her cloak to the next table, where she 
was received with amiable sympathy by the three lorettes, 
Chirac, and the other two men. The party surreptitiously 
examined Sophia from time to time. Then Chirac went 
outside with the head-waiter, returned, consulted with 
his friends, and finally approached Sophia. It was twenty 
minutes past three. 

He renewed his magnificent bow. " Madame," he said 
carefully, " will you allow me to bring you to your hotel ? " 

He made no reference to Gerald, partly, doubtless, because 
his English was treacherous on difficult ground. 

Sophia had not sufficient presence of mind to thank her 
saviour. 

" But the bill ? " she stammered. " The bill isn't paid." 

He did not instantly understand her. But one of the 
waiters had caught the sound of a familia'r word, and sprang 
forward with a slip of paper on a plate. 

" I have no money," said Sophia, with a feeble smile. 

" Je vous arrangerai ca," he said. " What name of the 
hotel ? Meurice, is it not ? " 

" Hotel Meurice," said Sophia. " Yes." 

He spoke to the head-waiter about the bill, which was 
carried away like something obscene ; and on his arm, which 
he punctiliously offered and she could not refuse, Sophia left 
the scene oi her ignominy. She was so distraught that she 
could not manage her crinoline in the doorway. No sign 
anywhere outside of Gerald or his foe ! 

He put her into an open carriage, and in five minutes they 
had clattered down the brilliant silence of the Rue de la Paix, 
through the Place Vendome into the Rue de Rivoli ; and the 
night-porter of the hotel was at the carriage-step. 

" I tell them at the restaurant where you gone," said 
Chirac, bare-headed under the long colonnade of the street. 
" If your husband is there, I tell him. Till to-morrow . . . ! " 

His manners were more wonderful than any that Sophia 
had ever imagined. He might have been in the dark Tui- 
leries on the opposite side of the street, saluting an empress, 
instead of taking leave of a raw little girl, who was still too 
disturbed even to thank him. 

She fled candle in hand up the wide, many-cornered stairs ; 
Gerald might be akeady in the bedroom, . . . drunk ! 



3 o 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

There was a chance. But the gilt-fringed bedroom was 
empty. She sat down at the velvet-covered table amid the 
shadows cast by the candle that wavered in the draught from 
the open window. And she set her teeth and a cold fury 
possessed her in the hot and languorous night. Gerald was 
an imbecile. That he should have allowed himself to get 
tipsy was bad enough, but that he should have exposed her 
to the horrible situation from which Chirac had extricated 
her, was unspeakably disgraceful. He was an imbecile. He 
had no commonsense. With all his captivating charm, he 
could not be relied upon not to make himself ridiculous, 
tragically ridiculous. Compare him with Mr. Chirac ! She 
leaned despairingly on the table. She would not undress. 
She would not move. She had to realize her position ; she 
had to see it. 

Folly ! Folly ! Fancy a commercial traveller throwing a 
compromising piece of paper to the daughter of his customer 
in the shop itself : that was the incredible folly with which 
their relations had begun ! And his mad" gesture at the pit- 
shaft ! And his scheme for bringing her to Paris unmarried ! 
And then to-night 1 Monstrous folly ! Alone in the bedroom 
she was a wise and disillusioned woman, wiser than any of 
those dolls in the restaurant. 

And had she not gone to Gerald, as it were, over the dead 
body of her father, through lies and lies and again lies ? 
That was how she phrased it to herself. . . . Over the dead 
body of her father ! How could such a venture succeed ? 
How could she ever have hoped that it would succeed ? 
In that moment she saw her acts with the terrible vision of 
a Hebrew prophet. 

She thought of the Square and of her life there with her 
mother and Constance. Never would her pride allow her 
to return to that life, not even if the worst happened to her 
that could happen. She was one of those who are prepared 
to pay without grumbling for what they have had. 

There was a sound outside. She noticed that the dawn 
had begun. The door opened and disclosed Gerald. 

They exchanged a searching glance, and Gerald shut the 
door. Gerald infected the air, but she perceived at once 
that he was sobered. His lip was bleeding. 

" Mr. Chirac brought me home," she said. 

" So it seems," said Gerald, curtly. " I asked you to wait 
for me. Didn't I say I should come back ? " 

He was adopting the injured magisterial tone of the man 
who is ridiculously trying to conceal from himself and others 
that he has recently behaved like an ass. 



SUPPER. 305 

She resented the injustice. " I don't think you need talk 
like that," she said. 

" Like what ? " he bullied her, determined that she should 
be in the wrong. 

And what a hard look on his pretty face ! 

Her prudence bade her accept the injustice. She was his. 
Rapt away from her own world, she was utterly dependent 
on his good nature. 

" I knocked my chin against the damned balustrade, coming 
upstairs," said Gerald, gloomily. 

She knew that was a lie. " Did you ? " she replied kindly. 
" Let me bathe it." 



CHAPTER III. 

AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 
I. 

SHE went to sleep in misery. All the glory of her new life 
had been eclipsed. But when she woke up, a few hours later, 
in the large, velvety stateliness of the bedroom for which 
Gerald was paying so fantastic a price per day, she was in a 
brighter mood, and very willing to reconsider her verdicts. Her 
pride induced her to put Gerald in the right and herself in the 
wrong, for she was too proud to admit that she had married 
a charming and irresponsible fool. And, indeed, ought she 
not to put herself in the wrong ? Gerald had told her to wait, 
and she had not waited. He had said that he should return 
to the restaurant, and he had returned. Why had she not 
waited ? She had not waited because she had behaved like 
a simpleton. She had been terrified about nothing. Had 
she not been frequenting restaurants now for a month past ? 
Ought not a married woman to be capable of waiting an hour 
in a restaurant for her lawful husband without looking a 
ninny ? And as for Gerald's behaviour, how could he have 
acted differently ? The other Englishman was obviously a 
brute and had sought a quarrel. His contradiction of Gerald's 
statements was extremely offensive. On being invited by 
the brute to go outside, what could Gerald do but comply ? 
Not to have complied might have meant a fight in the res- 
taurant, as the brute was certainly drunk. Compared to 
the brute, Gerald was not at all drunk, merely a little gay 
and talkative. Then Gerald's fib about his chin was natural ; 
he simply wished to minimize the fuss and to spare her feel- 
ings. It was, in fact, just like Gerald to keep perfect silence 
as to what had passed between himself and the brute. How- 
ever, she was convinced that Gerald, so lithe and quick, had 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 307 

given that great brute with his supercilious ways as good as 
he received, if not better. 

And if she were a man and had asked her wife to wait in a 
restaurant, and the wife had gone home under the escort of 
another man, she would most assuredly be much more angry, 
than Gerald had been. She was very glad that she had con- 
trolled herself and exercised a meek diplomacy. A quarrel 
had thus been avoided. Yes, the finish of the evening could 
not be called a quarrel ; after her nursing of his chin, nothing 
but a slight coolness on his part had persisted. 

She arose silently and began to dress, full of a determina- 
tion to treat Gerald as a good wife ought to treat a husband. 
Gerald did not stir ; he was an excellent sleeper : one of 
those organisms that never want to go to bed and never want 
to get up. When her toilet was complete save for her bodice, 
there was a knock at the door. She started. 

" Gerald ! " She approaehed the bed, and leaned her nude 
bosom over her husband, and put her arms round his neck. 
This method of being brought back to consciousness did not 
displease him. 

The knock was repeated. He gave a grunt. 

" Some one's knocking at the door," she whispered. 

" Then why don't you open it ? " he asked dreamily. 

"I'm not dressed, darling." 

He looked at her. " Stick something on your shoulders, 
girl ! " said he. " What does it matter ? " 

There she was, being a simpleton again, despite her resolu- 
tion 1 

She obeyed, and cautiously opened the door, standing 
behind it. 

A middle-aged whiskered servant, in a long white apron, 
announced matters in French which passed her understand- 
ing. But Gerald had heard from the bed, and he replied. 

" Bien, monsieur ! " The servant departed, with a bow, 
down the obscure corridor. 

" It's Chirac," Gerald explained when she had shut the 
door. ' I was forgetting I asked him to come and have 
lunch with us, early. He's waiting in the drawing-room. 
Just put your bodice on, and go and talk to him till I come." 

He jumped out of bed, and then, standing in his night- 
garb, stretched himself and terrifically yawned. 

" Me ? " Sophia questioned. 

" Who else ? " said Gerald with that curious satiric dryness 
which he would sometimes import into his tone. 

" But I can't speak French ! " she protested. 

" I didn't suppose you could," said Gerald, with an in- 



3 o8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

crease of dryness ; " but you know as well as I do that he 
can speak English." 

" Oh, very well, then ! " she murmured with agreeable 
alacrity. 

. Evidently Gerald had not yet quite recovered from his 
legitimate displeasure of the night. He minutely examined 
his mouth in the glass of the Louis Philippe wardrobe. It 
showed scarcely a trace of battle. 

" I say ! " he stopped her, as, nervous at the prospect 
before her, she was leaving the room. " I was thinking of 
going to Auxerre to-day." 

" Auxerre ? " she repeated, wondering under what circum- 
stances she had recently heard that name. Then she re- 
membered : it was the place of execution of the murderer 
Rivain. 

" Yes," he said. " Chirac has to go. He's on a newspaper 
now. He was an architect when I knew him. He's got to 
go and -he thinks himself jolly lucky. So I thought I'd go 
with him." 

The truth was that he had definitely arranged to go.- 

" Not to see the execution ? " she stammered. 

" Why not ? I've always wanted to see an execution, 
especially with the guillotine. And executions are public 
in France. It's quite the proper thing to go to them." 

" But why do you want to see an execution ? " 

" It just happens that I do want to see an execution. It's 
a fancy of mine, that's all. I don't know that any reason 
is necessary," he said, pouring out water into the diminutive 
ewer. 

She was aghast. " And shall you leave me here alone ? " 

" Well," said he, " I don't see why my being married 
should prevent me from doing something that I've always 
wanted to do. Do you ? " 

" Oh no I" she eagerly concurred. 

" That's all right," he said. " You can do exactly as you 
like. Either stay here, or come with me. If you go to 
Auxerre there's no need at all for you to see the execution. 
It's an interesting old town cathedral and so on. But of 
course if you can't bear to be in the same town as a guillotine, 
I'll go alone. I shall come back to-morrow." 

It was plain where his wish lay. She stopped the phrases 
that came to her lips, and did her best to dismiss the thoughts 
which prompted them. 

" Of course I'll go," she said quietly. She hesitated, and 
then went up to the washstand and kissed a part of his cheek 
that was not soapy. That kiss, which comforted and some- 




AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 309 

how reassured her, was the expression of a surrender whose 
monstrousness she would not admit to herself. 

In the rich and dusty drawing-room Chirac and Chirac's 
exquisite formalities awaited her. Nobody else was there. 

" My husband . . ." she began, smiling and blushing. 
She liked Chirac. 

It was the first time she had had the opportunity of using 
that word to other than a servant. It soothed her and gave 
her confidence. She perceived after a few moments that 
Chirac did genuinely admire her ; more, that she inspired 
him with something that resembled awe. Speaking very 
slowly and distinctly she said that she should travel with her 
husband to Auxerre, as he saw no objection to that course ; 
implying that if he saw no objection she was perfectly satis- 
fied. Chirac was concurrence itself. In five minutes it 
seemed to be the most natural and proper thing in the world 
that, on her honeymoon, she should be going with her hus- 
band to a particular town because a notorious murderer was 
about to be decapitated there in public. 

" My husband has always wanted to see an execution," 
she said, later. " It would be a pity to . . ." 

" As psychological experience," replied Chirac, pronouncing 
the p of the adjective, " it will be very interessant. . . . To 
observe one's self, in such circumstances ..." He smiled 
enthusiastically. 

She thought how strange even nice Frenchmen were. 
Imagine going to an execution in order to observe yourself ! 



II. 

What continually impressed Sophia as strange, in the be- 
haviour not only of Gerald but of Chirac and other people 
with whom she came into contact, was its quality of casual- 
ness. She had all her life been accustomed to see enter- 
prises, even minor ones, well pondered and then carefully 
schemed beforehand. In St. Luke's Square there was always, 
in every head, a sort of time-table of existence prepared at 
least one week in advance. But in Gerald's world nothing 
was prearranged. Elaborate affairs were decided in a moment 
and undertaken with extraordinary lightness. Thus the 
excursion to Auxerre ! During lunch scarcely a word was 
said as to it ; the conversation, in English for Sophia's advan- 
tage, turning, as usual under such circumstances, upon the 
difficulty of languages and the differences between countries. 



3 io THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Nobody would have guessed that any member of the party 
had any preoccupation whatever for the rest of the day. 
The meal was delightful to Sophia ; not merely did she find 
Chirac comfortingly kind and sincere, but Gerald was restored 
to the perfection of his charm and his good humour. Then 
suddenly, in the midst of coffee, the question of trains loomed 
up like a swift crisis. In five minutes Chirac had departed 
whether to his office or his home Sophia did not understand 
and within a quarter of an hour she and Gerald were driving 
rapidly to the Gare de Lyon, Gerald stuffing into his pocket 
a large envelope full of papers which he had received by reg- 
istered post. They caught the train by about a minute, 
and Chirac by a few seconds. Yet neither he nor Gerald 
seemed to envisage the risk of inconvenience and annoyance 
which they had incurred and escaped. Chirac chattered 
through the window with another journalist in the next 
compartment. When she had leisure to examine him, Sophia 
saw that he must have called at his home to put on old 
clothes. Everybody except herself and Gerald seemed to 
travel in his oldest clothes. 

The train was hot, noisy, and dusty. But, one after an- 
other, all three of them fell asleep and slept heavily, calmly, 
like healthy and exhausted young animals. Nothing could 
disturb them for more than a moment. To Sophia it ap- 
peared to be by simple chance that Chirac aroused himself 
and them at Laroche and sleepily seized her valise and got 
them all on the platform, where they yawned and smiled, 
full of the deep, half-realized satisfaction of repose. They 
drank nectar from a wheeled buffet, drank it eagerly, in 
thirsty gulps, and sighed with pleasure and relief, and Gerald 
threw down a coin, refusing change with a lord's gesture. 
The local train to Auxerre was full, and with a varied and 
sinister cargo. At length they were in the zone of the wait- 
ing guillotine. The rumour ran that the executioner was on 
the train. No one had seen him ; no one was sure of recog- 
nizing him, but everyone hugged the belief that he was on 
the train. Although the sun was sinking the heat seemed 
not to abate. Attitudes grew more limp, more abandoned. 
Soot and prickly dust flew hi unceasingly at the open win- 
dows. The train stopped at Bonnard, Chemilly, and Mone- 
teau, each time before a waiting crowd that invaded it. 
And at last, in the great station at Auxerre, it poured out an 
incredible mass of befouled humanity that spread over every- 
thing like an inundation. Sophia was frightened. Gerald 
left the initiative to Chirac, and Chirac took her arm and 
led her forward, looking behind him to see that Gerald 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 311 

followed with the valise. Frenzy seemed to reign in 
Auxerre. 

The driver of a cab demanded ten francs for transporting 
them to the Hotel de 1'Epee. 

" Bah ! " scornfully exclaimed Chirac, hi his quality of ex- 
perienced Parisian who is not to be exploited by heavy- 
witted provincials. 

But the driver of the next cab demanded twelve francs. 

" Jump in," said Gerald to Sophia. Chirac lifted his eye- 
brows. 

At the same moment a tall, stout man with the hard face 
of a flourishing scoundrel, and a young, pallid girl on his arm, 
pushed aside both Gerald and Chirac and got into the cab 
with his companion. 

Chirac protested, telling him that the cab was already 
engaged. 

The usurper scowled and swore, and the young girl laughed 
boldly. 

Sophia, shrinking, expected her escort to execute justice 
heroic and final ; but she was disappointed. 

" Brute ! " murmured Chirac, and shrugged his shoulders 
as the carriage drove off, leaving them foolish on the kerb. 

By this time all the other cabs had been seized. They 
walked to the Hotel de 1'Epee, jostled by the crowd, Sophia 
and Chirac in front, and Gerald following with the valise, 
whose weight caused him to lean over to the right and his 
left arm to rise. The avenue was long, straight, and misty 
with a floating dust. Sophia had a vivid sense of the ro- 
mantic. They saw towers and spires, and Chirac talked to 
her slowly and carefully of the cathedral and the famous 
churches. He said that the stained glass was marvellous, 
and with much care he catalogued for her all the things she 
must visit. They crossed a river. She felt as though she 
was stepping into the middle age. At intervals Gerald 
changed the valise from hand to hand ; obstinately, he would 
not let Chirac touch it. They struggled upwards, through 
narrow curving streets. 

" Voila ! " said Chirac. 

They were in front of the Hotel de 1'Epee. Across the 
street was a cafe crammed with people. Several carriages 
stood in front. The Hotel de 1'Epee had a reassuring air of 
mellow respectability, such as Chirac had claimed for it. He 
had suggested this hotel for Madame Scales because it was 
not near the place of execution. Gerald had said, " Of 
course I Of course ! " Chirac, who did not mean to go to 
bed, required no room for himself. 



3 i2 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

The Hotel de I'Epe'e had one room to offer, at the price of 
twenty-five francs. 

Gerald revolted at the attempted imposition. "A nice 
thing ! " he grumbled, " that ordinary travellers can't get a 
decent room at a decent price just because some one's going 
to be guillotined to-morrow ! We'll try elsewhere ! " 

His features expressed disgust, but Sophia fancied that he 
was secretly pleased. 

They swaggered out of the busy stir of the hotel, as those 
must who, having declined to be swindled, wish to preserve 
their importance in the face of the world. In the street a 
cabman solicited them, and filled them with hope by saying 
that he knew of a hotel that might suit them and would drive 
them there for five francs. He furiously lashed his horse. 
The mere fact of being in a swiftly moving carriage which 
wayfarers had to avoid nimbly, maintained their spirits. 
They had a near glimpse of the cathedral. The cab halted 
with a bump, in a small square, in front of a repellent build- 
ing which bore the sign, " Hotel de Vezelay." The horse was 
bleeding. Gerald instructed Sophia to remain where she 
was, and he and Chirac went up four stone steps into the 
hotel. Sophia, stared at by loose crowds that were promen- 
ading, gazed about her, and saw that all the windows of the 
square were open and most of them occupied by people who 
laughed and chattered. Then there was a shout : Gerald's 
voice. He had appeared at a window on the second floor 
of the hotel with Chirac and a very fat woman. Chirac 
saluted, and Gerald laughed carelessly, and nodded. 

" It's all right," said Gerald, having descended. 

" How much do they ask ? " Sophia inquired indis- 
creetly. 

Gerald hesitated, and looked self-conscious. " Thirty- 
five francs," he said. " But I've had enough of driving 
about. It seems we're lucky to get it even at that." 

And Chirac shrugged his shoulders as if to indicate that the 
situation and the price ought to be accepted philosophically. 
Gerald gave the driver five francs. He examined the piece 
and demanded a pourboire. 

" Oh ! Damn ! " said Gerald, and, because he had no 
smaller change, parted with another two francs. 

' Is any one coming out for this damned valise ? " Gerald 
demanded, like a tyrant whose wrath would presently fall 
t the populace did not instantly set about minding their 
p s and q's. 

But nobody emerged, and he was compelled to carry the 
bag himself. J 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 313 

The hotel was dark and malodorous, and every room seemed 
to be crowded with giggling groups of drinkers. 

" We can't both sleep in this bed, surely," said Sophia 
when, Chirac having remained downstairs, she faced Gerald 
in a small, mean bedroom. 

" You don't suppose I shall go to bed, do you ? " said 
Gerald, rather brusquely. " It's for you. We're going to 
eat now. Look sharp." 



III. 

It was night. She lay in the narrow, crimson-draped bed. 
The heavy crimson curtains had been drawn across the dirty 
lace curtains of the window, but the lights of the little square 
faintly penetrated through chinks into the room. The sounds 
of the square also penetrated, extraordinarily loud and clear, 
for the unabated heat had compelled her to leave the window 
open. She could not sleep. Exhausted though she was, 
there was no hope of her being able to sleep. 

Once again she was profoundly depressed. She remem- 
bered the dinner with horror. The long, crowded table, 
with semicircular ends, in the oppressive and reeking 
dining-room lighted by oil-lamps ! There must have been 
at least forty people at that table. Most of them ate dis- 
gustingly, as noisily as pigs, with the ends of the large coarse 
napkins tucked in at their necks. All the service was done 
by the fat woman whom she had seen at the window with 
Gerald, and a young girl whose demeanour was candidly 
brazen. Both these creatures were slatterns. Everything 
was dirty. But the food was good. Chirac and Gerald were 
agreed that the food was good, as well as the wine. " Re- 
marquable ! " Chirac had said, of the wine. Sophia, how- 
ever, could neither eat nor drink with relish. She was afraid. 
The company shocked her by its gestures alone. It was 
very heterogeneous in appearance, some of the diners being 
well dressed, approaching elegance, and others shabby. 
But all the faces, to the youngest, were brutalized, corrupt, 
and shameless. The juxtaposition of old men and young 
women was odious to her, especially when those pairs kissed, 
as they did frequently towards the end of the meal. Happily 
she was placed between Chirac and Gerald. That situation 
seemed to shelter her even from the conversation. She would 
have comprehended nothing of the conversation, had it not 
been for the presence of a middle-aged Englishman who sat 
at the opposite end of the table with a youngish, stylish 



3 i 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

Frenchwoman whom she had seen at Sylvain's on the 
previous night. The Englishman was evidently under a 
promise to teach English to the Frenchwoman. He kept 
translating for her into English, slowly and distinctly, and 
she would repeat the phrases after him, with strange con- 
tortions of the mouth. 

Thus Sophia gathered that the talk was exclusively about 
assassinations, executions, criminals, and executioners. Some 
of the people there made a practice of attending every execu- 
tion. They were fountains of interesting gossip, and the 
lions of the meal. There was a woman who could recall the 
dying words of all the victims of justice for twenty years 
past. The table roared with hysteric laughter at one of this 
woman's anecdotes. Sophia learned that she had related 
how a criminal had said to the priest who was good-naturedly 
trying to screen the sight of the guillotine from him with his 
body : " Stand away now, parson. Haven't I paid to see 
it ? " Such was the Englishman's rendering. The wages 
of the executioners and their assistants were discussed, and 
differences of opinions led to ferocious arguments. A young 
and dandiacal fellow told, as a fact which he was ready to 
vouch for with a pistol, how Cora Pearl, the renowned English 
courtesan, had through her influence over a prefect of police 
succeeded in visiting a criminal alone in his cell during the 
night preceding his execution, and had only quitted him an 
hour before the final summons. The tale won the honours 
of the dinner. It was regarded as truly impressive, and in- 
evitably it led to the general inquiry : what could the 
highest personages in the empire see to admire in that red- 
haired Englishwoman ? And of course Rivain himself, the 
handsome homicide, the centre and hero of the fete, was 
never long out of the conversation. Several of the diners 
had seen him ; one or two knew him and could give amazing 
details of his prowess as a man of pleasure. Despite his 
crime, he seemed to be the object of sincere idolatry. It was 
said positively that a niece of his victim had been promised 
a front place at the execution. 

Apropos of this, Sophia gathered, to her intense astonish- 
ment and alarm, that the prison was close by and that the 
execution would take place at the corner of the square it- 
self in which the hotel was situated. Gerald must have 
known ; he had hidden it from her. She regarded him side- 
ways, with distrust. As the dinner finished, Gerald's pose 
of a calm, disinterested, scientific observer of humanity 
gradually broke down. He could not maintain it in front 
of the increasing license of the scene round the table. He was 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 315 

at length somewhat ashamed of having exposed his wife to 
the view of such an orgy ; his restless glance carefully avoided 
both Sophia and Chirac. The latter, whose unaffected sim- 
plicity of interest in the affair had more than anything 
helped to keep Sophia in countenance, observed the change 
in Gerald and Sophia's excessive discomfort, and suggested 
that they should leave the table without waiting for the 
coffee. Gerald agreed quickly. Thus had Sophia been 
released from the horror of the dinner. She did not under- 
stand how a man so thoughtful and kindly as Chirac he 
had bidden her good-night with the most distinguished 
courtesy could tolerate, much less pleasurably savour, the 
gluttonous, drunken, and salacious debauchery of the Hotel 
de Vezelay ; but his theory was, so far as she could judge 
from his imperfect English, that whatever existed might be 
admitted and examined by serious persons interested in the 
study of human nature. His face seemed to say : " Why 
not ? " His face seemed to say to Gerald and to herself : 
" If this incommodes you, what did you come for ? " 

Gerald had left her at the bedroom door with a self- 
conscious nod. She had partly undressed and lain down, 
and instantly the hotel had transformed itself into a kind 
of sounding-box. It was as if, beneath and within all the 
noises of the square, every movement in the hotel reached 
her ears through cardboard walls : distant shoutings and 
laughter below ; rattlings of crockery below ; stampings up 
and down stairs ; stealthy creepings up and down stairs ; 
brusque calls ; fragments of song, whisperings ; long sighs 
suddenly stifled ; mysterious groans as of torture, broken 
by a giggle ; quarrels and bickerings, she was spared nothing 
in the strangely resonant darkness. 

Then there came out of the little square a great uproar 
and commotion, with shrieks, and under the shrieks a con- 
fused din. In vain she pressed her face into the pillow and 
listened to the irregular, prodigious noise of her eyelashes as 
they scraped the rough linen. The thought had somehow 
introduced itself into her head that she must arise and go to 
the window and see all that was to be seen. She resisted. 
She said to herself that the idea was absurd, that she did not 
wish to go to the window. Nevertheless, while arguing with 
herself, she well knew that resistance to the thought was use- 
less and that ultimately her legs would obey its command. 

When ultimately she yielded to the fascination and went 
to the window and pulled aside one of the curtains, she had 
a feeling of relief. 

The cool, grey beginnings of dawn were in the sky, and 



3 i6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

every detail of the square was visible. Without exception 
all the windows were wide open and filled with sightseers. 
In the background of many windows were burning candles 
or lamps that the far distant approach of the sun was already 
killing. In front of these, on the frontier of two mingling 
lights, the attentive figures of the watchers were curiously 
silhouetted. On the red-tiled roofs, too, was a squatted 
population. Below, a troop of gendarmes, mounted on cara- 
coling horses stretched in line across the square, was gradu- 
ally sweeping the entire square of a packed, gesticulating, 
cursing crowd. The operation of this immense besom was 
very slow. As the spaces of the square were cleared they 
began to be dotted by privileged persons, journalists or law 
officers or their friends, who walked to and fro in conscious 
pride ; among them Sophia descried Gerald and Chirac, 
strolling arm-in-arm and talking to two elaborately clad 
girls, who were also arm-in-arm. 

Then she saw a red reflection coming from one of the side 
streets of which she had a vista ; it was the swinging lantern 
of a waggon drawn by a gaunt grey horse. The vehicle 
stopped at the end of the square from which the besom had 
started, and it was immediately surrounded by the privileged, 
who, however, were soon persuaded to stand away. The 
crowd amassed now at the principal inlets of the square, gave 
a formidable cry and burst into the refrain 

" Le voila ! 
Nicolas ! 
Ah! Ah! Ah!" 

The clamour became furious as a group of workmen in blue 
blouses drew piece by piece all the components of the guillo- 
tine from the waggon and laid them carefully on the ground, 
under the superintendence of a man in a black frock-coat 
and a silk hat with broad flat brims ; a little fussy man of 
nervous gestures. And presently the red columns had risen 
upright from the ground and were joined at the top by an 
acrobatic climber. As each part was bolted and screwed to 
the growing machine the man in the high hat carefully tested 
it. In a short time that seemed very long, the guillotine was 
finished save for the triangular steel blade which lay shining 
on the ground, a cynosure. The executioner pointed to it, 
and two men picked it up and slipped it into its groove, and 
hoisted it to the summit of the machine. The executioner 
peered at it interminably amid a universal silence. Then he 
actuated the mechanism, and the mass of metal fell with a 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 317 

muffled, reverberating thud. There were a few faint shrieks, 
blended together, and then an overpowering racket of cheers, 
shouts, hootings, and fragments of song. The blade was 
again lifted, instantly reproducing silence, and again it fell, 
liberating a new bedlam. The executioner made a move- 
ment of satisfaction. Many women at the windows clapped 
enthusiastically, and the gendarmes had to fight brutally 
against the fierce pressure of the crowd. The workmen 
doffed their blouses and put on coats, and Sophia was dis- 
turbed to see them coming in single file towards the hotel, 
followed by the executioner in the silk hat. 



rv. 

There was a tremendous opening of doors in the Hotel de 
Vezelay, and much whispering on thresholds, as the execu- 
tioner and his band entered solemnly. Sophia heard them 
tramp upstairs ; they seemed to hesitate, and then appar- 
ently went into a room on the same landing as hers. A 
door banged. But Sophia could hear the regular sound of 
new voices talking, and then the rattling of glasses on a tray. 
The conversation which came to her from the windows of the 
hotel now showed a great increase of excitement. She could 
not see the people at these neighbouring windows without 
showing her own head, and this she would not do. The boom 
of a heavy bell striking the hour vibrated over the roofs of the 
square ; she supposed that it might be the cathedral clock. 
In a corner of the square she saw Gerald talking vivaciously 
alone with one of the two girls who had been together. She 
wondered vaguely how such a girl had been brought up, and 
what her parents thought or knew ! And she was conscious 
of an intense pride in herself, of a measureless haughty 
feeling of superiority. 

Her eye caught the guillotine again, and was held by it. 
Guarded by gendarmes, that tall and simple object did most 
menacingly dominate the square with its crude red columns. 
Tools and a large open box lay on the ground beside it. The 
enfeebled horse in the waggon had an air of dozing on his 
twisted legs. Then the first rays of the sun shot lengthwise 
across the square at the level of the chimneys ; and Sophia 
noticed that nearly all the lamps and candles had been 
extinguished. Many people at the windows were yawning ; 
they laughed foolishly after they had yawned. Some were 
eating and drinking. Some were shouting conversations from 



3 i8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

one house to another. The mounted gendarmes were still 
pressing back the feverish crowds that growled at all the 
inlets to the square. She saw Chirac walking to and fro 
alone. But she could not find Gerald. He could not have 
left the square. Perhaps he had returned to the hotel and 
would come up to see if she was comfortable or if she needed 
anything. Guiltily she sprang back into bed. When last 
she had surveyed the room it had been dark ; now it was 
bright and every detail stood clear. Yet she had the sensa- 
tion of having been at the window only a few minutes. 

She waited. But Gerald did not come. She could hear 
chiefly the steady hum of the voices of the executioner and 
his aids. She reflected that the room in which they were 
must be at the back. The other sounds in the hotel grew 
less noticeable. Then, after an age, she heard a door open, 
and a low voice say something commandingly in French, and 
then a ' Oui, monsieur," and a general descent of the stairs. 
The executioner and his aids were leaving. " You," cried a 
drunken English voice from an upper floor it was the middle- 
aged Englishman translating what the executioner had said 
" you, you will take the head." Then a rough laugh, and 
the repeating voice of the Englishman's girl, still pursuing 
her studies in English : " You will take ze 'ead. Yess, sair." 
And another laugh. At length quiet reigned in the hotel. 
Sophia said to herself : "I won't stir from this bed till it's 
all over and Gerald comes back 1 " 

She dozed, under the sheet, and was awakened by a 
tremendous shrieking, growling, and yelling : a phenomenon 
of human bestiality that far surpassed Sophia's narrow ex- 
periences. Shut up though she was in a room, perfectly 
secure, the mad fury of that crowd, balked at the inlets to the 
square, thrilled and intimidated her. It sounded as if they 
would be capable of tearing the very horses to pieces. " I 
must stay where I am," she murmured. And even while 
saying it she rose and went to the window again and peeped 
out. The torture involved was extreme, but she had not suffi- 
cient force within her to resist the fascination. She stared 
greedily into the bright square. The first thing she saw was 
Gerald coming put of a house opposite, followed after a few 
seconds by the girl with whom he had previously been talking. 
Gerald glanced hastily up at the facade of the hotel, and then 
approached as near as he could to the red columns, in front 
of which were now drawn a line of gendarmes with naked 
swords. A second and larger waggon, with two horses, waited 
by the side of the other one. The racket beyond the square 
continued and even grew louder. But the couple of hundred 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 319 

persons within the cordons, and all the inhabitants of the 
windows, drunk and sober, gazed in a fixed and sinister 
enchantment at the region of the guillotine, as Sophia gazed. 
" I cannot stand this I " she told herself in horror, but she 
could not move ; she could not move even her eyes. 

At intervals the crowd would burst out in a violent stac- 
cato 

" Le voila ! 
Nicolas ! 
Ah ! Ah ! Ah ! " 

And the final " Ah " was devilish. 

Then a gigantic passionate roar, the culmination of the 
mob's fierce savagery, crashed against the skies. The line 
of maddened horses swerved and reared, and seemed to fall 
on the furious multitude while the statue-like gendarmes 
rocked over them. It was a last effort to break the cordon, 
and it failed. 

From the little street at the rear of the guillotine appeared 
a priest, walking backwards and holding a crucifix high in 
his right hand, and behind him came the handsome hero, 
his body all crossed with cords, between two warders, who 
pressed against him and supported him on either side. He 
was certainly very young. He lifted his chin gallantly, 
but his face was incredibly white. Sophia discerned that 
the priest was trying to hide the sight of the guillotine from 
the prisoner with his body, just as in the story which she had 
heard at dinner. 

Except the voice of the priest, indistinctly rising and 
falling in the prayer for the dying, there was no sound in the 
square or its environs. The windows were now occupied by 
groups turned to stone with distended eyes fixed on the little 
procession. Sophia had a tightening of the throat, and the 
hand trembled by which she held the curtain. The central 
figure did not seem to her to be alive ; but rather a doll, a 
marionette wound up to imitate the action of a tragedy. 
She saw the priest offer the crucifix to the mouth of the 
marionette, which with a clumsy unhuman shoving of its 
corded shoulders butted the thing away. And as the pro- 
cession turned and stopped she could plainly see that the 
marionette's nape and shoulders were bare, his shirt having 
been slit. It was horrible. " Why do I stay here ? " she 
asked herself hysterically. But she did not stir. The 
victim had disappeared now in the midst of a group of men. 
Then she perceived him prone under the red column, between 
the grooves. The silence was now broken only by the tink- 



320 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ling of the horses' bits in the corners of the square. The line 
of gendarmes in front of the scaffold held their swords 
tightly and looked over their noses, ignoring the privileged 
groups that peered almost between their shoulders. 

And Sophia waited, horror-struck. She saw nothing but 
the gleaming triangle of metal that was suspended high above 
the prone, attendant victim. She felt like a lost soul, torn 
too soon from shelter, and exposed for ever to the worst 
hazards of destiny. Why was she in this strange, incom- 
prehensible town, foreign and inimical to her, watching with 
agonized glance this cruel, obscene spectacle ? Her sensi- 
bilities were all a bleeding mass of wounds. Why ? Only 
Sjsterday, and she had been an innocent, timid creature in 
ursley, in Axe, a foolish creature t who deemed the conceal- 
ment of letters a supreme excitement. Either that day or 
this day was not real. Why was she imprisoned alone in that 
odious, indescribably odious hotel, with no one to soothe and 
comfort her, and carry her away ? 

The distant bell boomed once. Then a monosyllabic voice 
sounded, sharp, low, nervous ; she recognized the voice of 
the executioner, whose name she had heard but could not 
remember. There was a clicking noise . . . 

She shrank down to the floor in terror and loathing, and 
hid her face, and shuddered. Shriek after shriek, from 
various windows, rang on her ears in a fusillade ; and then 
the mad yell of the penned crowd, which, like herself, had 
not seen but had heard, extinguished all other noise. Justice 
was done. The great ambition of Gerald's life was at last 
satisfied. 



V. 

Later, amid the stir of the hotel, there came a knock at her 
door, impatient and nervous. Forgetting, in her tribulation, 
that she was without her bodice, 'she got up from the floor 
in a kind of miserable dream, and opened. Chirac stood on 
the landing, and he had Gerald by the arm. Chirac looked 
worn out, curiously fragile and pathetic ; but Gerald was 
the very image of death. The attainment of ambition had 
utterly destroyed his equilibrium ; his curiosity had proved 
itself stronger than his stomach. Sophia would have pitied 
him had she in that moment been capable of pity. Gerald 
staggered past her into the room, and sank with a groan on 
to the bed. Not long since he had been proudly conver- 
sing with impudent women. Now, in swift collapse, he 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 331 

was as flaccid as a sick hound and as disgusting as an aged 
drunkard. 

" He is some little souffrant," said Chirac, weakly. 

Sophia perceived in Chirac's tone the assumption that of 
course her present duty was to devote herself to the task of 
restoring her shamed husband to his manly pride. 

" And what about me ? " she thought bitterly. 

The fat woman ascended the stairs like a tottering blanc- 
mange, and began to gabble to Sophia, who understood 
nothing whatever. 

" She wants sixty francs," Chirac said, and in answer to 
Sophia's startled question, he explained that Gerald had 
agreed to pay a hundred francs for the room, which was the 
landlady's own fifty francs in advance and the fifty after 
the execution. The other ten was for the dinner. The land- 
lady, distrusting the whole of her clientele, was collecting her 
accounts instantly on the completion of the spectacle. 

Sophia made no remark as to Gerald's lie to her. Indeed, 
Chirac had heard it. She knew Gerald for a glib liar to others, 
but she was naively surprised when he practised upon herself. 

" Gerald ! Do you hear ? " she said coldly. 

The amateur of severed heads only groaned. 

With a movement of irritation she went to him and felt 
in his pockets for his purse ; he acquiesced, still groaning. 
Chirac helped her to choose and count the coins. 

The fat woman, appeased, pursued her way. 

" Good-bye, madame ! " said Chirac, with his customary 
courtliness, transforming the landing of the hideous hotel 
into some imperial antechamber. 

" Are you going away ? " she asked, in surprise. Her 
distress was so obvious that it tremendously flattered him. 
He would have stayed if he could. But he had to return to 
Paris to write and deliver his article. 

" To-morrow, I hope ! " he murmured sympathetically, 
kissing her hand. The gesture atoned somewhat for the 
sordidness of her situation, and even corrected the faults 
of her attire. Always afterwards it seemed to her that 
Chirac was an old and intimate friend ; he had successfully 
passed through the ordeal of seeing " the wrong side " of 
the stuff of her life. 

She shut the door on him with a lingering glance, and 
reconciled herself to her predicament. 

Gerald slept. Just as he was, he slept heavily. 

This was what he had brought her to, then 1 The horrors 
of the night, of the dawn, and of the morning ! Ineffable 
suffering and humiliation ; anguish and torture that could 



322 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

never be forgotten ! And after a fatuous vigil of unguessed 
license, lie had tottered back, an offensive beast, to sleep 
the day away in that filthy chamber ! He did not possess 
even enough spirit to play the role of roysterer to the end. 
And she was bound to him ; far, far from any other human 
aid ; cut off irrevocably by her pride from those who perhaps 
would have protected her from his dangerous folly. The deep 
conviction henceforward formed a permanent part of her 
general consciousness that he was simply an irresponsible 
and thoughtless fool 1 He was without sense. Such was 
her brilliant and godlike husband, the man who had given 
her the right to call herself a married woman 1 He was a 
fool. With all her ignorance of the world she could see that 
nobody but an arrant imbecile could have brought her to 
the present pass. Her native sagacity revolted. Gusts of 
feeling came over her in which she could have thrashed him 
into the realization of his responsibilities. 

Sticking out of the breast pocket of his soiled coat was the 
packet which he had received on the previous day. If he 
had not already lost it, he could only thank his luck. She 
took it. There were English bank-notes in it for two hun- 
dred pounds, a letter from a banker, and other papers. With 
precautions against noise she tore the envelope and the letter 
and papers into small pieces, and then looked about for a 
place to hide them. A cupboard suggested itself. She got 
on a chair, and pushed the fragments out of sight on the 
topmost shelf, where they may well be to this day. She 
finished dressing, and then sewed the notes into the lining of 
her skirt. She had no silly, delicate notions about stealing. 
She obscurely felt that, in the care of a man like Gerald, she 
might find herself in the most monstrous, the most impos- 
sible dilemmas. Those notes, safe and secret in her skirt, 
gave her confidence, reassured her against the perils of the 
future, and endowed her with independence. The act was 
characteristic of her enterprise and of her fundamental 
prudence. It approached the heroic. And her conscience 
hotly defended its righteousness. 

She decided that when he discovered his loss, she would 
merely deny all knowledge of the envelope, for he had not 
spoken a word to her about it. He never mentioned the 
details of money ; he had a fortune. However, the neces- 
sity for this untruth did not occur. He made no reference 
whatever to his loss. The fact was, he thought he had been 
careless enough to let the envelope be filched from him during 
the excesses of the night. 

All day till evening Sophia sat on a dirty chair, without 



AN AMBITION SATISFIED. 323 

food, while Gerald slept. She kept repeating to herself, in 
amazed resentment : "A hundred francs for this room ! A 
hundred francs ! And he hadn't the pluck to tell me ! " 
She could not have expressed her contempt. 

Long before sheer ennui forced her to look out of the 
window again, every sign of justice had been removed from 
the square. Nothing whatever remained in the heavy August 
sunshine save gathered heaps of filth where the horses had 
reared and caracoled. 



CHAPTER IV. 

A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 
I. 

FOR a time there existed in the minds of both Gerald and 
Sophia the remarkable notion that twelve thousand pounds 
represented the infinity of wealth, that this sum possessed 
special magical properties which rendered it insensible to the 
process of subtraction. It seemed impossible that twelve 
thousand pounds, while continually getting less, could ulti- 
mately quite disappear. The notion lived longer in the mind 
of Gerald than in that of Sophia ; for Gerald would never 
look at a disturbing fact, whereas Sophia's gaze was mor- 
bidly fascinated by such phenomena. In a life devoted to 
travel and pleasure Gerald meant not to spend more than 
six hundred a year, the interest on his fortune. Six hundred 
a year is less than two pounds a day, yet Gerald never paid 
less than two pounds a day in hotel bills alone. He hoped 
that he was living on a thousand a year, had a secret fear 
that he might be spending fifteen hundred, and was really 
spending about two thousand five hundred. Still, the re- 
markable notion of the inexhaustibility of twelve thousand 
pounds always reassured him. The faster the money went, 
the more vigorously this notion flourished in Gerald's mind. 
When twelve had unaccountably dwindled to three, Gerald 
suddenly decided that he must act, and in a few months he 
lost two thousand on the Paris Bourse. The adventure 
frightened him, and in his panic he scattered a couple of hun- 
dred in a frenzy of high living. 

But even with only twenty thousand francs left out of 
three hundred thousand, he held closely to the belief that 
natural laws would in his case somehow be suspended. He 
had heard of men who were once rich begging bread and 
sweeping crossings, but he felt quite secure against such risks, 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 325 

by simple virtue of the axiom that he was he. However, he 
meant to assist the axiom by efforts to earn money. When 
these continued to fail, he tried to assist the axiom by borrow- 
ing money ; but he found that his uncle had definitely done 
with him. He would have assisted the axiom by stealing 
money, but he had neither the nerve nor the knowledge to 
be a swindler ; he was not even sufficiently expert to cheat 
at cards. 

He had thought in thousands. Now he began to think in 
hundreds, in tens, daily and hourly. He paid two hundred 
francs in railway fares in order to live economically in a 
village, and shortly afterwards another two hundred francs in 
railway fares in order to live economically in Paris. And to 
celebrate the arrival in Paris and the definite commencement 
of an era of strict economy and serious search for a livelihood, 
he spent a hundred francs on a dinner at the Maison Doree 
and two balcony stalls at the Gymnase. In brief, he omitted 
nothing no act, no resolve, no self-deception of the typical 
fool in his situation ; always convinced that his difficulties 
and his wisdom were quite exceptional. 

In May 1870, on an afternoon, he was ranging nervously 
to and fro in a three-cornered bedroom of a little hotel at the 
angle of the Rue Fontaine and the Rue Laval (now the Rue 
Victor Masse), within half a minute of the Boulevard de 
Clichy. It had come to that an exchange of the " grand 
boulevard " for the " boulevard exterieur " ! Sophia sat on a 
chair at the grimy window, glancing down in idle disgust of 
life at the Clichy-Odeon omnibus which was casting off its 
tip-horse at the corner of the Rue Chaptal. The noise of 
petty, hurried traffic over the bossy paving stones was deaf- 
ening. The locality was not one to correspond with an ideal. 
There was too much humanity crowded into those narrow 
hilly streets; humanity seemed to be bulging out at the 
windows of the high houses. Gerald healed his pride by say- 
ing that this was, after all, the real Paris, and that the cookery 
was as good as could be got anywhere, pay what you would. 
He seldom ate a meal in the little salons on the first floor 
without becoming ecstatic upon the cookery. To hear him, 
he might have chosen the hotel on its superlative merits, 
without regard to expense. And with his air of use and 
custom, he did indeed look like a connoisseur of Paris who 
knew better than to herd with vulgar tourists in the pens of 
the Madeleine quarter. He was dressed with some distinc- 
tion ; good clothes, when put to the test, survive a change 
of fortune, as a Roman arch survives the luxury of departed 
empire. Only his collar, large V-shaped front, and wrist- 



326 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

bands, which bore the ineffaceable signs of cheap launder- 
ing, reflected the shadow of impending disaster. 

He glanced sideways, stealthily, at Sophia. She, too, was 
still dressed with distinction ; in the robe of black faille, the 
cashmere shawl, and the little black hat with its falling veil, 
there was no apparent symptom of beggary. She would have 
been judged as one of those women who content themselves 
with few clothes but good, and, greatly aided by nature, 
make a little go a long way. Good black will last for eternity ; 
it discloses no secrets of modification and mending, and it is 
not transparent. 

At last Gerald, resuming a suspended conversation, said 
as it were doggedly : 

" I tell you I haven't got five francs altogether I and you 
can feel my pockets if you like," added the habitual liar in 
him, fearing incredulity. 

"Well, and what do you expect me to do ? " Sophia in- 
quired. 

The accent, at once ironic and listless, in which she put 
this question, showed that strange and vital things had hap- 
pened to Sophia in the four years which had elapsed since 
her marriage. It did really seem to her, indeed, that the 
Sophia whom Gerald had espoused was dead and gone, and 
that another Sophia had come into her bcdy : so intensely 
conscious was she of a fundamental change in herself under 
the stress of continuous experience. And though this was 
but a seeming, though she was still the same Sophia more 
fully disclosed, it was a true seeming. Indisputably more 
beautiful than when Gerald had unwillingly made her his 
legal wife, she was now nearly twenty-four, and looked per- 
haps somewhat older than her age. Her frame was firmly 
set, her waist thicker, neither slim nor stout. The lips were 
rather hard, and she had a habit of tightening her mouth, 
on the same provocation as sends a snail into its shell. No 
trace was left of immature gawkiness in her gestures or of 
simplicity in her intonations. She was a woman of command- 
ing and slightly arrogant charm, not in the least degree 
the charm of innocence and ingenuousness. Her eyes were 
the eyes of one who has lost her illusions too violently and 
too completely. Her gaze, coldly comprehending, implied 
familiarity with the abjectness of human nature. Gerald 
had begun and had finished her education. He had not 
ruined her, as a bad professor may ruin a fine voice, because 
her moral force immeasurably exceeded his ; he had un- 
wittingly produced a masterpiece, but it was a tragic master- 
piece. Sophia was such a woman as, by a mere glance as 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 327 

she utters an opinion, will make a man say to himself, half 
in desire and half in alarm lest she reads him too : " By 
Jove ! she must have been through a thing or two. She 
knows what people are ! " 

The marriage was, of course, a calamitous folly. From the 
very first, from the moment when the commercial traveller 
had with incomparable rash fatuity thrown the paper pellet 
over the counter, Sophia's awakening commonsense had told 
her that in yielding to her instinct she was sowing misery 
and shame for herself ; but she had gone on, as if under a 
spell. It had needed the irretrievableness of flight from 
home to begin the breaking of the trance. Once fully 
awakened out of the trance, she had recognized her marriage 
for what it was. She had made neither the best nor the 
worst of it. She had accepted Gerald as one accepts a 
climate. She saw again and again that he was irreclaim- 
ably a fool and a prodigy of irresponsibleness. She toler- 
ated him, now with sweetness, now bitterly ; accepting always 
his caprices, and not permitting herself to have wishes of 
her own. She was ready to pay the price of pride and 
of a moment's imbecility with a lifetime of self-repression. 
It was high, but it was the price. She had acquired noth- 
ing but an exceptionally good knowledge of the French 
language (she soon learnt to scorn Gerald's glib maltreat- 
ment of the tongue), and she had conserved nothing but 
her dignity. She knew that Gerald was sick of her, that 
he would have danced for joy to be rid of her ; that he 
was constantly unfaithful ; that he had long since ceased 
to be excited by her beauty. She knew also that at bot- 
tom he was a little afraid of her ; here was her sole moral 
consolation. The thing that sometimes struck her as sur- 
prising was that he had not abandoned her, simply and 
crudely walked off one day and forgotten to take her with 
him. 

They hated each other, but in different ways. She loathed 
him, and he resented her. 

" What do I expect you to do ? " he repeated after her. 
" Why don't you write home to your people and get some 
money out of them ? " 

Now that he had said what was in his mind, he faced her 
with a bullying s.wagger. Had he been a bigger man he might 
have tried the effect of physical bullying on her. One of 
his numerous reasons for resenting her was that she was the 
taller of the two. 

She made no reply. 

" Now you needn't turn pale and begin all that fuss 



32 8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

over again. What I'm suggesting is a perfectly reasonable 
thing. If I haven't got money I haven't got it. 

invent it." . ,. , 

She perceived that he was ready for one of their penodical 
tempestuous quarrels. But that day she felt too tired and 
unwell to quarrel. His warning against a repetition of 
" fuss " had reference to the gastric dizziness from which 
she had been suffering for two years. It would take her 
usually after a meal. She did not swoon, but her head 
swam and she could not stand. She would sink down 
wherever she happened to be, and, her face alarmingly 
white, murmur faintly : " My salts." Within five minutes 
the attack had gone and left no trace. She had been through 
one just after lunch. He resented this affection. He 
detested being compelled to hand the smelling-bottle to 
her, and he would have avoided doing so if her pallor did 
not' always alarm him. Nothing but this pallor convinced 
him that the attacks were not a deep ruse to impress 
him. His attitude invariably implied that she could cure 
the malady if she chose, but that through obstinacy she did 
not choose. 

" Are you going to have the decency to answer my ques- 
tion, or aren't you ? " 

" What question ? " Her vibrating voice was low and 
restrained. 

" Will you write to your people ? " 

A For money ? " 

The sarcasm of her tone was diabolic. She could not 
have kept the sarcasm out of her tone ; she did not attempt 
to keep it out. She cared little if it whipped him to fury. 
Did he imagine, seriously, that she would be capable of 
going on her knees to her family ? She ? Was he un- 
aware that his wife was the proudest and the most obsti- 
nate woman on earth, that all her behaviour to him was the 
expression of her pride and her obstinacy ? Ill and weak 
though she felt, she marshalled together all the forces of her 
character to defend her resolve never, never to eat the 
bread of humiliation. She was absolutely determined to 
be dead to her family. Certainly, one December, several 
years previously, she had seen English Christmas cards in 
an English shop in the Rue de Rivoli, and in a sudden gush 
of tenderness towards Constance, she had despatched a 
coloured greeting to Constance and her mother. And 
having initiated the custom, she had continued it. That 
was not like asking a kindness ; it was bestowing a kind- 
ness. But except for the annual card, she was dead to St. 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 329 

Luke's Square. She was one of those daughters who dis- 
appear and are not discussed in the family circle. The 
thought of her immense foolishness, the little tender thoughts 
of Constance, some flitting souvenir, full of unwilling ad- 
miration, of a regal gesture of her mother, these things 
only steeled her against any sort of resurrection after death. 

And he was urging her to write home for money ! Why, 
she would not even have paid a visit in splendour to St. 
Luke's Square. Never should they know what she had 
suffered ! And especially her Aunt Harriet, from whom she 
had stolen ! 

" Will you write to your people ? " he demanded yet again, 
emphasizing and separating each word. 

" No," she said shortly, with terrible disdain. 

" Why not ? " 

" Because I won't." The curling line of her lips, as 
they closed on each other, said all the rest ; all the cruel 
truths about his unspeakable, inane, coarse follies, his lazi- 
ness, his excesses, his lies, his deceptions, his bad faith, 
his truculence, his improvidence, his shameful waste and 
ruin of his life and hers. She doubted whether he realized 
his baseness and her wrongs, but if he could not read them 
in her silent contumely, she was too proud to recite them 
to him. She had never complained, save in uncontrolled 
moments of anger. 

" If that's the way you're going to talk all right ! " he 
snapped, furious. Evidently he was baffled. 

She kept silence. She was determined to see what he 
would do in the face of her inaction. 

" You know, I'm not joking," he pursued. " We shall 
starve." 

" Very well," she agreed. " We shall starve." 

She watched him surreptitiously, and she was almost 
sure that he really had come to the end of his tether. His 
voice, which never alone convinced, carried a sort of con- 
viction now. He was penniless. In four years he had 
squandered twelve thousand pounds, and had nothing to 
show for it except an enfeebled digestion and a tragic figure 
of a wife. One small point of satisfaction there was and 
all the Baines in her clutched at it and tried to suck satis- 
faction, from it their manner of travelling about from hotel 
to hotel had made it impossible for Gerald to run up debts. 
A few debts he might have, unknown to her, but they could 
not be serious. 

So they looked at one another, in hatred and despair. 
The inevitable had arrived. For months she had fronted 

II a 



33 o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

it in bravado, not concealing from herself that it lay in 
waiting. For years he had been sure that though the 
inevitable might happen to others it could not happen to 
him. There it was ! He was conscious of a heavy weight 
in his stomach, and she of a general numbness, enwrapping 
her fatigue. Even then he could not believe that it was 
true, this disaster. As for Sophia, she was reconciling her- 
self with bitter philosophy to the eccentricities of fate. 
Who would have dreamed that she, a young girl brought 
up, etc. ? Her mother could not have improved the occasion 
more uncompromisingly than Sophia did behind that dis- 
dainful mask. 

Well if that's it . . . ! " Gerald exploded at length, 
puffing. And he puffed out of the room and was gone in a 
second. 



II. 

She languidly picked up a book, the moment Gerald had 
departed, and tried to prove to herself that she was suffi- 
ciently in command of her nerves to read. For a long 
time reading had been her chief solace. But she could 
not read. She glanced round the inhospitable chamber, 
and thought of the hundreds of rooms some splendid and 
some vile, but all arid in their unwelcoming aspect through 
which she had passed in her progress from mad exultation 
to calm and cold disgust. The ceaseless din of the street 
annoyed her jaded ears. And a great wave of desire for 
peace, peace of no matter what kind, swept through her. 
And then her deep distrust of Gerald reawakened ; in spite 
of his seriously desperate air, which had a quality of sin- 
cerity quite new in her experience of him, she could not be 
entirely sure that, in asserting utter penury, he was not after 
all merely using a trick to get rid of her. 

She sprang up, threw the book on the bed, and seized 
her gloves. She would follow him, if she could. She would 
do what she had never done before she would spy on him. 
Fighting against her lassitude, she descended the long wind- 
ing stairs, and peeped forth from the doorway into the 
street. The ground floor of the hotel was a wine-shop ; 
the stout landlord was lightly flicking one of the three little 
yellow tables that stood on the pavement. He smiled with 
his customary benevolence, and silently pointed in the 
direction of the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette. She saw 
Gerald down there in the distance. He was smoking a cigar. 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 331 

He seemed to be a little man without a care. The smoke 
of the cigar came first round his left cheek and then round 
his right, sailing away into nothing. He walked with a 
gay spring, but not quickly, nourishing his cane as freely 
as the traffic of the pavement would permit, glancing into 
all the shop windows and into the eyes of all the women 
under forty. This was not at all the same man as had 
a moment ago been spitting angry menaces at her in the 
bedroom of the hotel. It was a fellow of blithe charm, 
ripe for any adventurous joys that destiny had to 
offer. 

Supposing he turned round and saw her ? 

If ne turned round and saw her and asked her what she 
was doing there in the street, she would tell him plainly : 
" I'm following you, to find out what you do." 

But he did not turn. He went straight forward, deviat- 
ing at the church, where the crowd became thicker, into 
the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, and so to the boule- 
vard, which he crossed. The whole city seemed excited 
and vivacious. Cannons boomed in slow succession, and 
flags were flying. Sophia had no conception of the signi- 
ficance of those guns, for, though she read a great deal, 
she never read a newspaper ; the idea of opening a news- 
paper never occurred to her. But she was accustomed to 
the feverish atmosphere of Paris. She had lately seen 
regiments of cavalry flashing and prancing in the Luxem- 
bourg Gardens, and had much admired the fine picture. 
She accepted the booming as another expression of the 
high spirits that had to find vent somehow in this feverish 
empire. She so accepted it and forgot it, using all the 
panorama of the capital as a dim background for her ex- 
acerbated egoism. 

She was obliged to walk slowly, because Gerald walked 
slowly. A beautiful woman, or any woman not positively 
hag-like or venerable, who walks slowly in the streets of 
Paris becomes at once the cause of inconvenient desires, 
as representing the main objective on earth, always tran- 
scending in importance politics and affairs. Just as a true 
patriotic Englishman cannot be too busy to run after a fox, 
so a Frenchmen is always ready to forsake all in order to 
follow a woman whom he has never before set eyes on. 
Many men thought twice about her, with her romantic 
Saxon mystery of temperament, and her Parisian clothes ; 
but all refrained from affronting her, not in the least out 
of respect for the gloom in her face, but from an expert 
conviction that those rapt eyes were fixed immovably on 



332 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

another male. She walked unscathed amid the frothing 
hounds as though protected by a spell. 

On the south side of the boulevard, Gerald proceeded 
down the Rue Montmartre, and then turned suddenly into 
the Rue Croissant. Sophia stopped and asked the price 
of some combs which were exposed outside a little shop. 
Then she went on, boldly passing the end of the Rue Crois- 
sant. No shadow of Gerald ! She saw the signs of 
newspapers all along the street, Le Bien Public, La Presse 
Libre, La Patrie. There was a creamery at the corner. 
She entered it, asked for a cup of chocolate, and sat down. 
She wanted to drink coffee, but every doctor had forbidden 
coffee to her, on account of her attacks of dizziness. Then, 
having ordered chocolate, she felt that, on this occasion, 
when she had need of strength in her great fatigue, only 
coffee could suffice her, and she changed the order. She 
was close to the door, and Gerald could not escape her vigi- 
lance if he emerged at that end of the street. She drank 
the coffee with greedy satisfaction, and waited in the 
creamery till she began to feel conspicuous there. And 
then Gerald went by the door, within six feet of her. He 
turned the corner and continued his descent of the Rue 
Montmartre. She paid for her coffee and followed the 
chase. Her blood seemed to be up. Her lips were tightened, 
and her thought was : " Wherever he goes, I'll go, and I 
don't care what happens." She despised him. She felt 
herself above him. She felt that somehow, since quitting 
the hotel, he had been gradually growing more and more 
vile and meet to be exterminated. She imagined infamies 
as to the Rue Croissant. There was no obvious ground for 
this intensifying of her attitude towards him ; it was merely 
the result of the chase. All that could be definitely charged 
against him was the smoking of a cigar. 

He stepped into a tobacco-shop, and came out with a 
longer cigar than the first one, a more expensive article, 
stripped off its collar, and lighted it as a millionaire might 
have lighted it. This was the man who swore that he did 
not possess five francs. 

She tracked him as far as the Rue de Rivoli, and then 
lost him. There were vast surging crowds in the Rue de 
Rivoli, and much bunting, and soldiers and gesticulatory 
policemen. The general effect of the street was that all 
things were brightly waving in the breeze. She was caught 
in the crowd as in the current of a stream, and when she 
tried to sidle out of it into a square, a row of smiling police- 
men barred her passage ; she was a part of the traffic that 






A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 333 

they had to regulate. She drifted till the Louvre oame 
into view. After all, Gerald had only strolled forth to 
see the sight of the day, whatever it might be ! She knew 
not what it was. She had no curiosity about it. In the 
middle of all that thickening mass of humanity, staring 
with one accord at the vast monument of royal and imperial 
vanities, she thought, with her characteristic grimness, of 
the sacrifice of her whole career as a school-teacher for th 
chance of seeing Gerald once a quarter in the shop. She 
gloated over that, as a sick appetite will gloat over tainted 
food. And she saw the shop, and the curve of the stairs 
up to the showroom, 'and the pier-glass in the showroom. 

Then the guns began to boom again, and splendid car- 
riages swept one after another from under a majestic arch- 
way and glittered westward down a lane of spotless splen- 
did uniforms. The carriages were laden with still more 
splendid uniforms, and with enchanting toilettes. Sophia, in 
her modestly stylish black, mechanically noticed how much 
easier it was for attired women to sit in a carriage now that 
crinolines had gone. That was the sole impression made 
upon her by this glimpse of the last fe"te of the Napoleonic 
Empire. She knew not that the supreme pillars of im- 
perialism were exhibiting themselves before her ; and that 
the eyes of those uniforms and those toilettes were full of 
the legendary beauty of Eugenie, and their ears echoing to 
the long phrases of Napoleon the Third about his grati- 
tude to his people for their confidence in him as shown 
by the plebiscite, and about the ratification of constitu- 
tional reforms guaranteeing order, and about the empire 
having been strengthened at its base, and- about showing 
force by moderation and envisaging the future without fear, 
and about the bosom of peace and liberty, and the eternal 
continuance of his dynasty. 

She just wondered vaguely what was afoot. 

When the last carriage had rolled away, and the guns and 
acclamations had ceased, the crowd at length began to 
scatter. She was carried by it into the Place du Palais 
Royal, and in a few moments she managed to withdraw into 
the Rue des Bons Enfants and was free. 

The coins in her purse amounted to three sous, and there- 
fore, though she felt exhausted to the point of illness, she 
had to return to the hotel on foot. Very slowly she crawled 
upwards in the direction of the Boulevard, through the 
expiring gaiety of the city. Near the Bourse a fiacre over- 
took her, and in the fiacre were Gerald and a woman. Gerald 
had not seen her ; he was talking eagerly to his ornate com- 



334 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

panion. All his body was alive. The fiacre was out of 
sight in a moment, but Sophia judged instantly the grade 
of the woman, who was evidently of the discreet class that 
frequented the big shops of an afternoon with something of 
their own to sell* 

Sophia's grimness increased. The pace of the fiacre, her 
fatigued body, Gerald's delightful, careless vivacity, the 
attractive streaming veil of the nice, modist courtesan 
everything conspired to increase it. 



III. 

Gerald returned to the bedroom which contained his wife 
and all else that he owned in the world at about nine o'clock 
that evening. Sophia was in bed. She had been driven to 
bed by weariness. She would have preferred to sit up td 
receive her husband, even if it had meant sitting up all night, 
but her body was too heavy for her spirit. She lay in the 
dark. She had eaten nothing. Gerald came straight into 
the room. He struck a match, which burned blue, with 
a stench, for several seconds, and then gave a clear, yellow 
flame. He lit a candle ; and saw his wife. 

" Oh ! " he said ; " you're there, are you ? " 

She offered no reply. 

" Won't speak, eh ? " he said. " Agreeable sort of wife ! 
Well, have you made up your mind to do what I told you ? 
I've come back especially to know." 

She still did not speak. 

He sat down, with his hat on, and stuck out his feet, 
wagging them to and fro on the heels. 

" I'm quite without money," he went on. " And I'm 
sure your people will be glad to lend us a bit till I get some. 
Especially as it's a question of you starving as well as me. 
If I had enough to pay your fares to Bursley I'd pack you off. 
But I haven't." 

She could only hear his exasperating voice. The end of 
the bed was between her eyes and his. 

" Liar ! " she said, with uncompromising distinctness. 
The word reached him barbed with all the poison of her 
contempt and disgust. 

There was a pause. 

" Oh ! I'm a. liar, am I ? Thanks. I lied enough to get 
you, I'll admit. But you never complained of that. I 
remember beginning the New Year well with a thumping 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 335 

lie just to have a sight of you, my vixen. But you didn't 
complain then. I took you with only the clothes on your 
back. And I've spent every cent I had on you. And now 
I'm spun, you call me a liar." 

She said nothing. 

" However," he went on, " this is going to come to an end, 
this is ! " 

He rose, changed the position of the candle, putting it on a 
chest of drawers, and then drew his trunk from the wall, and 
knelt in front of it. 

She gathered that he was packing his clothes. At first 
she did not comprehend his reference to beginning the New 
Year. Then his meaning revealed itself. That story to her 
mother about having been attacked by ruffians at the bot- 
tom of King Street had been an invention, a ruse to account 
plausibly for his presence on her mother's doorstep 1 And 
she had never suspected that the story was not true. In 
spite of her experience of his lying, she had never suspected 
that that particular statement was a lie. What a simpleton 
she was ! 

There was a continual movement in the room for about a 
quarter of an hour. Then a key turned in the lock of the 
trunk. 

His head popped up over the foot of the bed. " This isn't 
a joke, you know," he said. 

She kept silence. 

" I give you one more chance. Will you write to your 
mother or Constance if you like or won't you ? " 

She scorned to reply in any way. 

" I'm your husband," he said. " And it's your duty to 
obey me, particularly in an affair like this. I order you to 
write to your mother." 

The corners of her lips turned downwards. 

Angered by her mute obstinacy, he broke away from the 
bed with a sudden gesture. 

" You do as you like," he cried, putting on his overcoat, 
" and I shall do as I like. You can't say I haven't warned 
you. It's your own deliberate choice, mind you ! What- 
ever happens to you you've brought on yourself." He lifted 
and shrugged his shoulders, to get the overcoat exactly into 
place on his shoulders. 

She would not speak a word, not even to insist that she 
was indisposed. 

He pushed his trunk outside the door, and returned to the 
bed. 

" You understand," he said menacingly : " I'm off." 



336 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

. She looked up at the foul ceiling. 

" Hm ! " he sniffed, bringing his reserves of pride to 
combat the persistent silence that was damaging his dignity. 
And he went off, sticking his head forward like a pugilist. 

" Here ! " she muttered. " You're forgetting this." 

He turned. 

She stretched her hand to the night-table and held up a 
red circlet. 

" What is it ? " 

" It's the bit of paper off the cigar you bought in the Rue 
Montmartre this afternoon," she answered, in a significant 
tone. 

He hesitated, then swore violently, and bounced out of the 
room. He had made her suffer, but she was almost repaid 
for everything by that moment of cruel triumph. She 
exulted in it, and never forgot it. 

Five minutes later, the gloomy menial in felt slippers and 
alpaca jacket, who seemed to pass the whole of his life 
flitting in and out of bedrooms like a rabbit in a warren, 
carried Gerald's trunk downstairs. She recognized the 
peculiar tread of his slippers. 

Then there was a knock at the door. The landlady entered, 
actuated by a legitimate curiosity. 

" Madame is suffering ? " the landlady began. 

Sophia refused offers of food and nursing. 

" Madame knows without doubt that monsieur has gone 
away ? " 

" Has he paid the bill ? " Sophia asked bluntly. 

" But yes, madame, till to-morrow. Then madame has 
want of nothing ? " 

" If you will extinguish the candle," said Sophia. 

He had desert- J her, then ! 

" All this," she reflected, listening in the dark to the 
ceaseless rattle of the street, " because mother and Con- 
stance wanted to see the elephant, and I had to go into 
father's room ! I should never have caught sight of him 
from the drawing-room window ! " 



IV. 

She passed a night of physical misery, exasperated by the 
tireless rattling vitality of the street. She kept saying to 
herself^: " I'm all alone now, and I'm going to be ill. I 
am ill." She saw herself dying in Paris, and heard the ex- 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 337 

pressions of facile sympathy and idle curiosity drawn forth 
by the sight of the dead body of this foreign woman in a 
little Paris hotel. She reached the stage, in the gradual ex- 
cruciation of her nerve's, when she was obliged to concentrate 
her agonized mind on an intense and painful expectancy of 
the next new noise, which when it came increased her 
torture and decreased her strength to support it. She went 
through all the interminable dilatoriness of the dawn, from 
the moment when she could scarcely discern the window to 
the moment when she could read the word " Bock " on the 
red circlet of paper which had tossed all night on the sea of 
the counterpane. She knew she would never sleep again. 
She could not imagine herself asleep ; and then she was 
startled by a sound that seemed to clash with the rest of her 
impressions. It was a knocking at the door. With a start 
she perceived that she must have been asleep. 

" Enter," she murmured. 

There entered the menial in alpaca. His waxen face 
showed a morose commiseration. He noiselessly approached 
the bed he seemed to have none of the characteristics of a 
man, but to be a creature infinitely mysterious and aloof 
from humanity and held out to Sophia a visiting card in 
his grey hand. 

It was Chirac's card. 

" Monsieur asked for monsieur," said the waiter. " And 
then, as monsieur had gone away, he demanded to see 
madame. He says it is very important." 

Her heart jumped, partly in vague alarm, and partly with 
a sense of relief at this chance of speaking to some one 
whom she knew. She tried to reflect rationally. 

" What time is it ? " she inquired. 

" Eleven 'o'clock, madame." 

This was surprising. The fact that it was eleven o'clock 
destroyed the remains of her self-confidence. How could it 
be eleven o'clock, with the dawn scarcely finished ? 

" He says it is very important," repeated the waiter, 
imperturbably and solemnly. " Will madame see him an 
instant ? " 

Between resignation and anticipation she said : " Yes." 

"It is well, madame," said the waiter, disappearing 
without a sound. 

She sat up and managed to drag her matinee from a chair 
and put it around her shoulders. Then she sank back 
from weakness, physical and spiritual. She hated to receive 
Chirac in a bedroom, and particularly in that bedroom. 
But the hotel had no public room except the dining-room, 



33 8 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

which began to be occupied after eleven o'clock. Moreover, 
she could not possibly get up. Yes, on the whole she was 
pleased to see Chirac. He was almost her only acquaintance, 
assuredly the only being whom she could by any stretch of 
meaning call a friend, in the whole of Europe. Gerald and 
she had wandered to and fro, skimming always over the real 
life of nations, and never penetrating into it. There was no 
place for them, because they had made none. With the ex- 
ception of Chirac, whom an accident of business had thrown 
into Gerald's company years before, they had no social rela- 
tions. Gerald was not a man to make friends ; he did not 
seem to need friends, or at any rate to feel the want of them. 
But as chance had given him Chirac, he maintained the 
connection whenever they came to Paris. Sophia, of course, 
had not been able to escape from the solitude imposed by 
existence in hotels. Since her marriage she had never spoken 
to a woman in the way of intimacy. But once or twice 
she had approached intimacy with Chirac, whose wistful 
admiration for her always aroused into activity her desire 
to charm. 

Preceded by the menial, he came into the room hurriedly, 
apologetically, with an air of acute anxiety. And as he saw 
her lying on her back, with flushed features, her hair dis- 
arranged, and only the grace of the silk ribbons of her 
matinee to mitigate the melancholy repulsiveness of her 
surroundings, that anxiety seemed to deepen. 

" Dear madame," he stammered, " all my excuses ! " 
He hastened to the bedside and kissed her hand a little 
peck, according to his custom. " You are ill ? " 

" I have my migraine," she said. " You want Gerald ? " 

" Yes," he said diffidently. " He had promised " 

" He has left me," Sophia interrupted him in her weak 
and fatigued voice. She closed her eyes as she uttered the 
words. 

" Left you ? " He glanced round to be sure that the waiter 
had retired. 

" Quitted me ! Abandoned me ! Last night ! " 

" Not possible ! " he breathed. 

She nodded. She felt intimate with him. Like all secre- 
tive persons, she could be suddenly expansive at times. 

" It is serious ? " he questioned. 

" All that is most serious," she replied. 

" And you ill ! Ah, the wretch ! Ah, the wretch ! 
That, for example ! " He waved his hat about. 

" What is it you want, Chirac ? " she demanded, in a 
confidential tone. 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 339 

" Eh, well," said Chirac. " You do not know where he has 
gone ? " 

" No. What do you want ? " she insisted. 

He was nervous. He fidgeted. She guessed that, though 
warm with sympathy for her plight, he was preoccupied by 
interests and apprehensions of his own. He did not refuse 
her request temporarily to leave the astonishing matter of her 
situation in order to discuss the matter of his visit. 

" Eh, .well ! He came to me yesterday afternoon in the 
Rue Croissant to borrow some money." 

She understood then the object of Gerald's stroll on the 
previous afternoon. 

" I hope you didn't lend him any." she said. 

" Eh, well ! It was like this. He said he ought to have 
received five thousand francs yesterday morning, but that 
he had had a telegram that it would not arrive till to-day. 
And he had need of five hundred francs at once. I had not 
five hundred francs " he smiled sadly, as if to insinuate that 
he did not handle such sums " but I borrowed it from the 
cash-box of the journal. It is necessary, absolutely, that I 
should return it this morning." He spoke with increased 
seriousness. " Your husband said he would take a cab and 
bring me the money immediately on the arrival of the post 
this morning about nine o'clock. Pardon me for deranging 
you with such a " 

He stopped. She could see that he really was grieved 
to " derange " her, but that circumstances pressed. 

" At my paper," he murmured, "it is not so easy as that 
to in fine ! " 

Gerald had genuinely been at his last francs. He had not 
lied when she thought he had lied. The nakedness of his 
character showed now. Instantly upon the final and definite 
cessation of the lawful supply of money, he had set his wits 
to obtain money unlawfully. He had, in fact, simply stolen 
it from Chirac, with the ornamental addition of endanger- 
ing Chirac's reputation and situation as a sort of reward to 
Chirac for the kindness ! And, further, no sooner had he got 
hold of the money than it had intoxicated him, and he had 
yielded to the first fatuous temptation. He had no sense of 
responsibility, no scruple. And as for common prudence 
had he not risked permanent disgrace and even prison for a 
paltry sum which he would certainly squander in two or three 
days ? Yes, it was indubitable that he would stop at noth- 
ing, at nothing whatever. 

" You did not know that he was coming to me ? " asked 
Chirac, pulling his short, silky brown beard. 



34 o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" No," Sophia answered. 

" But he said that you had charged him with your 
friendlinesses to me ! " He nodded his head once or twice, 
sadly but candidly accepting, in his quality of a Latin, the 
plain facts of human nature reconciling himself to them at 
once. 

Sophia revolted at this crowning detail of the structure of 
Gerald's rascality. 

" It is fortunate that I can pay you," she said. 

But " he tried to protest. 

" I have quite enough money." 

She did not say this to screen Gerald, but merely from 
amour-propre. She would not let Chirac think that she was 
the wife of a man bereft of all honour. And so she clothed 
Gerald with the rag of having, at any rate, not left her in 
destitution as well as in sickness. Her assertion seemed a 
strange one, in view of the fact that he had abandoned her 
on the previous evening that is to say, immediately after 
the borrowing from Chirac. But Chirac did not examine the 
statement. 

" Perhaps he has the intention to send me the money. 
Perhaps, after all, he is now at the offices " 

" No," said Sophia. " He is gone. Will you go down- 
stairs and wait for me. We will go together to Cook's office. 
It is English money I have." 

" Cook's ? " he repeated. The word now so potent had 
then little significance. " But you are ill. You cannot " 

" I feel better." 

She did. Or rather, she felt nothing except the power of 
her resolve to remove the painful anxiety from that wistful 
brow. The shame of the trick played on Chirac awakened 
new forces in her. She dressed in a physical torment which, 
however, had no more reality than a nightmare. She 
searched in a place where even an inquisitive husband 
would not think of looking, and then, painfully, she de- 
scended the long stairs, holding to the rail, which swam 
round and round her, carrying the whole staircase with it. 
" After all," she thought, " I can't be seriously ill, or I 
shouldn't have been able to get up and go out like this. I 
never guessed early this morning that I could do it ! I can't 
possibly be as ill as I thought I was ! " 

And in the vestibule she encountered Chirac's face, 
lightening at the sight of her, which proved to him that 
his deliverance was really to be accomplished. 

" Permit me " 

" I'm all right," she smiled, tottering. " Get a cab." It 



A CRISIS FOR GERALD. 341 

suddenly occurred to her that she might quite as easily have 
given him the money in English notes ; he could have 
changed them. But she had not thought. Her brain would 
not operate. She was dreaming and waking together. 
He helped her into the cab. 



V. 

In the bureau de change there was a little knot of English 
people, with naive, romantic, and honest faces, quite differ- 
ent from the faces outside in the street. No corruption in 
those faces, but a sort of wondering and infantile sincerity, 
rather out of its element and lost in a land too unsophisti- 
cated, seeming to belong to an earlier age ! Sophia liked 
their tourist stare, and their plain and ugly clothes. She 
longed to be back in England, longed for a moment with 
violence, drowning in that desire. 

The English clerk behind his brass bars took her notes, 
and carefully examined them one by one. She watched 
him, not entirely convinced of his reality, and thought 
vaguely of the detestable morning when she had abstracted 
the notes from Gerald's pocket. She was filled with pity 
for the simple, ignorant Sophia of those days, the Sophia 
who still had a few ridiculous illusions concerning Gerald's 
character. Often, since, she had been tempted to break 
into the money, but she had always withstood the temptation, 
saying to herself that an hour of more urgent need would 
come. It had come. She was proud of her firmness, of the 
force of will which had enabled her to reserve the fund intact. 
The clerk gave her a keen look, and then asked her how she 
would take the French money. And she saw the notes fall- 
ing down one after another on to the counter as the clerk 
separated them with a snapping sound of the paper. 

Chirac was beside her. 

" Does that make the count ? " she said, having pushed 
towards him five hundred-franc notes. 

" I should not know how to thank you," he said, accepting 
the notes. " Truly " 

His joy was unmistakably eager. He had had a shock 
and a fright, and he now saw the danger past. He could 
return to the cashier of his newspaper, and fling down the 
money with a lordly and careless air, as if to say : " When it 
is a question of these English, one can always be sure ! " 
But first he would escort her to the hotel. She declined 



342 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

she did not know why, for he was her sole point of moral 
support in all France. He insisted. She yielded. So she 
turned her back, with regret, on that little English oasis in 
the Sahara of Paris, and staggered to the fiacre. 

And now that she had done what she had to do, she 
lost control of her body, and reclined flaccid and inert. 
Chirac was evidently alarmed. He did not speak, but 
glanced at her from time to time with eyes full of fear. 
The carriage appeared to her to be swimming amid waves 
over great depths. Then she was aware of a heavy weight 
against her shoulder : she had slipped down upon Chirac, 
unconscious. 



CHAPTER V. 

FEVER. 
I. 

THEN she was lying in bed in a small room, obscure because 
it was heavily curtained ; the light came through the inner 
pair of curtains of 6cru lace, with a beautiful soft silvery 
quality. A man was standing by the side of the bed not 
Chirac. 

" Now, madame," he said to her, with kind firmness, and 
speaking with a charming exaggerated purity of the vowels. 
" You have the mucous fever. I have had it myself. You 
will be forced to take baths, very frequently. I must ask you 
to reconcile yourself to that, to be good." 

She did not reply. It did not occur to her to reply. 
But she certainly thought that this doctor he was probably 
a doctor was overestimating her case. She felt better 
than she had felt for two days. Still, she did not desire to 
move, nor was she in the least anxious as to her surroundings. 
She lay quiet. 

A woman in a rather coquettish deshabille watched over 
her with expert skill. 

Later, Sophia seemed to be revisiting the sea on whose 
waves the cab had swum ; but now she was under the sea, 
in a watery gulf, terribly deep ; and the sounds of the world 
came to her through the water, sudden and strange. Hands 
seized her and forced her from the subaqueous grotto where 
she had hidden into new alarms. And she briefly perceived 
that there was a large bath by the side of the bed, and that 
she was being pushed into it. The water was icy cold. 
After that her outlook upon things was for a time clearer and 
more precise. She knew from fragments of talk which she 
heard that she was put into the cold bath by her bed every 
three hours, night and day, and that she remained in it for 



344 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ten minutes. Always, before the bath, she had to drink a 
glass of wine, and sometimes another glass while she was in 
the bath. Beyond this wine, and occasionally a cup of soup, 
she took nothing, had no wish to take anything. She grew 
perfectly accustomed to these extraordinary habits of life, 
to this merging of night and day into one monotonous and 
endless repetition of the same rite amid the same circum- 
stances on exactly the same spot. Then followed a period 
during which she objected to being constantly wakened up 
for this annoying immersion. And she fought against it even in 
her dreams. Long days seemed to pass when she could not be 
sure whether she had been put into the bath or not, when all 
external phenomena were disconcertingly interwoven with 
matters which she knew to be merely fanciful. And then she 
was overwhelmed by the hopeless gravity of her state. She 
felt that her state was desperate. She felt that she was dying. 
Her unhappiness was extreme, not because she was dying, 
but because the veils 01 sense were so puzzling, so exasperat- 
ing, and because her exhausted body was so vitiated, in every 
fibre, by disease. She' was perfectly aware that she was 
going to die. She cried aloud for a pair of scissors. She 
wanted to cut off her hair, and to send part of it to Con- 
stance and part of it to her mother, in separate packages. 
She insisted upon separate packages. Nobody would give 
her a pair of scissors. She implored, meekly, haughtily, 
furiously, but nobody would satisfy her. It seemed to her 
shocking that all her hair should go with her into her coffin 
while Constance and her mother had nothing by which to 
remember her, no tangible souvenir of her beauty. Then she 
fought for the scissors. She clutched at some one always 
through those baffling veils who was putting her into the 
bath by the bedside, and fought frantically. It appeared to 
her that this some one was the rather stout woman who had 
supped at Sylvain's with the quarrelsome Englishman four 
years ago. She could not rid herself of this singular conceit, 
though she knew it to be absurd. . . . 

A long time afterwards it seemed like a century she did 
actually and unmistakably see the woman sitting by her bed, 
and the woman was crying. 

" Why are you crying ? " Sophia asked wonderingly. 

And the other, younger, woman, who was standing at the 
foot of the bed, replied : 

" You do well to ask ! It is you who have hurt her, in 
your delirium, when you so madly demanded the scissors." 

The stout woman smiled with the tears on her cheeks ; 
but Sophia wept, from remorse. The stout woman looked 



FEVER. 345 

old, worn, and untidy. The other one was much younger. 
Sophia did not trouble to inquire from them who they were. 

That little conversation formed a brief interlude in the 
delirium, which overtook her again and distorted everything. 
She forgot, however, that she was destined to die. 

One day her brain cleared. She could be sure that she 
had gone to sleep in the morning and not wakened till the 
evening. Hence she had not been put into the bath. 

" Have I had my baths ? " she questioned. 

It was the doctor who faced her. 

" No," he said, " the baths are finished." 

She knew from his face that she was out of danger. More- 
over, she was conscious of a new feeling in her body, as 
though the fount of physical energy within her, long inter- 
rupted, had recommenced to flow but very slowly, a 
trickling. It was a rebirth. She was- not glad, but her body 
itself was glad ; her body had an existence ox its own. 

She was now often left by herself in the bedroom. To the 
right of the foot of the bed was a piano in walnut, and to 
the left a chimney-piece with a large mirror. She wanted to 
look at herself in the mirror. But it was a very long way off. 
She tried to sit up, and could not. She hoped that one day 
she would be able to get as far as the mirror. She said not 
a word about this to either of the two women. 

Often they would sit in the bedroom and talk without 
ceasing. Sophia learnt that the stout woman was named 
Foucault, and the other Laurence. Sometimes Laurence 
would address Madame Foucault as Aim6e, but usually she 
was more formal. Madame Foucault always called the 
other Laurence. 

Sophia's curiosity stirred and awoke. But she could not 
obtain any very exact information as to where she was, 
except that the house was in the Rue Breda, off the Rue 
Notre Dame de Lorette. She recollected vaguely that the 
reputation of the street was sinister. It appeared that, on 
the day when she had gone out with Chirac, the upper part 
of the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette was closed for repairs 
(this she remembered) and that the cabman had turned up 
the Rue Breda in order to make a detour, and that it was 
just opposite to the house of Madame Foucault that she had 
lost consciousness. Madame Foucault happened to be get- 
ting into a cab at the moment ; but she had told Chirac 
nevertheless to carry Sophia intq the house, and a policeman 
had helped. Then, when the doctor came, it was discovered 
that she could not be moved, save to a hospital, and both 
Madame Foucault and Laurence were determined that no 



346 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

friend of Chirac's should be committed to the horrors of a 
Paris hospital. Madame Foucault had suffered in one as a 
patient, and Laurence had been a nurse in another. . . . 

Chirac was now away. The women talked loosely of a war. 

" How kind you have been ! " murmured Sophia, with 
humid eyes. 

But they silenced her with gestures. She was not to talk. 
They seemed to have nothing further to tell her. They said 
Chirac would be returning perhaps soon, and that she could 
talk to him. Evidently they both held Chirac in affection. 
They said often that he was a charming boy. 

Bit by bit Sophia comprehended the length and the 
seriousness of her illness, and the immense devotion of the 
two women, and the terrific disturbance of their lives, and 
her own debility. She saw that the women were strongly 
attached to her, and she could not understand why, as she 
had never done anything for them, whereas they had done 
everything for her. She had not learnt that benefits ren- 
dered, not benefits received, are the cause of such attach- 
ments. 

All the time she was plotting, and gathering her strength 
to disobey orders and get as far as the mirror. Her pre- 
liminary studies and her preparations were as elaborate as 
those of a prisoner arranging to escape from a fortress. 
The first attempt was a failure. The second succeeded. 
Though she could not stand without support, she managed 
by clinging to the bed to reach a chair, and to push the 
chair in front of her until it approached the mirror. The 
enterprise was exciting and terrific. Then she saw a face 
in the glass : white, incredibly emaciated, with great, wild, 
staring eyes ; and the shoulders were bent as though with 
age. It was a painful, almost a horrible sight. It frightened 
her so that in her alarm she recoiled from it. Not attending 
sufficiently to the chair, she sank to the ground. She could 
not pick herself up, and she was caught there, miserably, by 
her angered jailers. The vision of her face taught her more 
efficiently than anything else the gravity of her adventure. 
As the women lifted her inert, repentant mass into the bed, 
she reflected, " How queer my life is ! " It seemed to her 
that she ought to have been trimming hats in the show- 
room instead of being in that curtained, mysterious, Parisian 
interior. 



FEVER. 347 



II. 

One day Madame Foucault knocked at the door of Sophia's 
little room (this ceremony of knocking was one of the in- 
dications that Sophia, convalescent, had been reinstated in 
her rights as an individual), and cried : 

" Madame, one is going to leave you all alone for some 
time." 

" Come in," said Sophia, who was sitting up in an arm- 
chair, and reading. 

Madame Foucault opened the door. " One is going to 
leave you all alone for some time," she repeated in a low, 
confidential voice, sharply contrasting with her shriek 
behind the door. 

Sophia nodded and smiled, and Madame Foucault also 
nodded and smiled. But Madame Foucault's face quickly 
resumed its anxious expression. 

" The servant's brother marries himself to-day, and she 
implored me to accord her two days what would you ? 
Madame Laurence is out. And I must go out. It is four 
o'clock. I shall re-enter at six o'clock striking. There- 
fore ..." 

" Perfectly," Sophia concurred. 

She looked curiously at Madame Foucault, who was care- 
fully made up and arranged for the street, in a dress of yellow 
tussore with blue ornaments, bright lemon-coloured gloves, 
a little blue bonnet, and a little white parasol not wider when 
opened than her shoulders. Cheeks, lips, and eyes were 
heavily charged with rouge, powder, or black. And that too 
abundant waist had been most cunningly confined in a belt 
that descended beneath, instead of rising above, the lower 
masses of the vast torso. The general effect was worthy 'of 
the effort that must have gone to it. Madame Foucault was 
not rejuvenated by her toilette, but it almost procured her 
pardon for the crime of being over forty, fat, creased, and 
worn out. It was one of those defeats that are a triumph. 

" You are very chic," said Sophia, uttering her admiration. 

" Ah ! " said Madame Foucault, shrugging the shoulders 
of disillusion. " Chic 1 What does that do ? " 

But she was pleased. 

The front-door banged. Sophia, by herself for the first 
time in the flat into which she had been carried unconscious 
and which she had never since left, had the disturbing sen- 
sation of being surrounded by mysterious rooms and mysteri- 
ous things. She tried to continue reading, but the sentences 



348 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

conveyed nothing to. her. She rose she could walk now a 
little and looked out of the window, through the inter- 
stices of the pattern of the lace curtains. The window gave 
on the courtyard, which was about sixteen feet below her. 
A low wall divided the courtyard from that of the next house. 
And the windows of the two houses, only to be distinguished 
by the different tints of their yellow paint, rose tier above 
tier in level floors, continuing beyond Sophia's field of vision. 
She pressed her face against the glass, and remembered the 
St. Luke's Square of her childhood ; and just as there from 
the showroom window she could not even by pressing her face 
against the glass see the pavement, so here she could not see 
the roof ; the courtyard was like the bottom of a well. 
There was no end to the windows ; six storeys she could count, 
and the sills of a seventh were the limit of her view. Every 
window was heavily curtained, like her own. Some of the 
upper ones had green sunblinds. Scarcely any sound ! 
Mysteries brooded without as well as within the flat of Madame 
Foucault. Sophia saw a bodiless hand twitch at a curtain 
and vanish. She noticed a green bird in a tiny cage on a sill 
in the next house. A woman whom she took to be the con- 
cierge appeared in the courtyard, deposited a small plant 
in the track of a ray of sunshine that lighted a corner for a 
couple of hours in the afternoon, and disappeared again. 
Then she heard a piano somewhere. That was all. The 
feeling that secret and strange lives were being lived be- 
hind those baffling windows, that humanity was everywhere 
intimately pulsing around her, oppressed her spirit yet not 
quite unpleasantly. The environment softened her glance 
upon the spectacle of existence, insomuch that. sadness be- 
came a voluptuous pleasure. And the environment threw 
her back on herself, into a sensuous contemplation of the 
fundamental fact of Sophia Scales, formerly Sophia Baines. 

She turned to the room, with the marks of the bath on the 
floor by the bed, and the draped piano that was never opened, 
and her two trunks filling up the corner opposite the door. 
She had the idea of thoroughly examining those trunks, which 
Chirac or somebody else must have fetched from the hotel. 
At the top of one of them was her purse, tied up with 
old ribbon and ostentatiously sealed ! How comical these 
French people were when they deemed it necessary to be 
serious ! She emptied both trunks, scrutinizing minutely 
all her goods, and thinking of the varied occasions upon which 
she had obtained them. Then she carefully restored them, 
her mind full of souvenirs newly awakened. 

She sighed as she straightened her back. A clock struck 



FEVER. 349 

in another room. It seemed to invite her towards discoveries. 
She had been in no other room of the flat. She knew nothing 
of the rest of the flat save by sound. For neither of the 
other women had ever described it, nor had it occurred to 
them that Sophia might care to leave her room though she 
could not leave the house. 

She opened her door, and glanced along the dim corridor, 
with which she was familiar. She knew that the kitchen lay 
next to her little room, and that next to the kitchen came 
the front-door. On the opposite side of the corridor were 
four double-doors. She crossed to the pair of doors facing 
her own little door, and quietly turned the handle, but the 
doors were locked : the same with the next pair. The third 
pair yielded, and she was in a large bedroom, with three 
windows on the street. She saw that the second pair of 
doors, which she had failed to unfasten, also opened into 
this room. Between the two pairs of doors was a wide bed. 
In front of the central window was a large dressing-table. 
To the left of the bed, half hiding the locked doors, was a 
large screen. On the marble mantelpiece, reflected in a huge 
mirror, that ascended to the ornate cornice, was a gilt-and- 
basalt clock, with pendants to match. On the opposite side 
of the room from this was a long wide couch. The floor was 
of polished oak, with a skin on either side of the bed. At 
the foot of the bed was a small writing-table, with a penny 
bottle of ink on it. A few coloured prints and engravings 
representing, for example, Louis Philippe and his family, 
and people perishing on a raft broke the tedium of the 
walls. The first impression on Sophia's eye was one of sombre 
splendour. Everything had the air of being richly orna- 
mented, draped, looped, carved, twisted, brocaded into 
gorgeousness. The dark crimson bed -hangings fell from 
massive rosettes in majestic folds. The counterpane was 
covered with lace. The window-curtains had amplitude 
beyond the necessary, and they were suspended from behind 
fringed and pleated valances. The green sofa and its sateen 
cushions were stiff with applied embroidery. The chandelier 
hanging from the middle of the ceiling, modelled to represent 
cupids holding festoons, was a glittering confusion of gilt 
and lustres : the lustres tinkled when Sophia stood on a 
certain part of the floor. The cane-seated chairs were com- 
pletely gilded. There was an effect of spaciousness. And 
the situation of the bed between the two double-doors, with 
the three windows in front and other pairs of doors com- 
municating with other rooms on either hand, produced in 
addition an admirable symmetry. 



350 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

But Sophia, with the sharp gaze of a woman brought up 
in the traditions of a modesty so proud that it scorns osten- 
tation, quickly tested and condemned the details of this 
chamber that imitated every luxury. Nothing in it, she 
found, was " good." And in St. Luke's Square " goodness " 
meant honest workmanship, permanence, the absence of 
pretence. All the stuffs were cheap and showy and shabby ; 
all the furniture was cracked, warped, or broken. The clock 
showed five minutes past twelve at five o'clock. And further, 
dust was everywhere, except in those places where even the 
most perfunctory cleaning could not have left it. In the 
obscurer pleatings of draperies it lay thick. Sophia's lip 
curled, and instinctively she lifted her peignoir. One of 
her mother's phrases came into her head : "a lick and a 
promise." And then another : "If you want to leave dirt, 
leave it where everybody can see it, not in the corners." 

She peeped behind the screen, and all the horrible welter 
of a cabinet de toilette met her gaze : a repulsive medley of 
foul waters, stained vessels and cloths, brushes, sponges, 
powders, and pastes. Clothes were hung up in disorder on 
rough nails ; among them she recognized a dressing-gown of 
Madame Foucault's, and, behind affairs of later date, the 
dazzling scarlet cloak in which she had first seen Madame 
Foucault, dilapidated now. So this was Madame Foucault's 
room ! This was the bower from which that elegance 
emerged, the filth from which had sprung the mature 
blossom ! 

She passed from that room direct to another, of which 
the shutters were closed, leaving it in twilight. This room 
too wrs a bedroom, rather smaller than the middle one, and 
having only one window, but furnished with the same 
dubious opulence. Dust covered it everywhere, and small 
footmarks were visible in the dust on the floor. At the back 
was a small door, papered to match the wall, and within this 
door was a cabinet de toilette, with no light and no air ; 
neither in the room nor in the closet was there any sign of 
individual habitation. She traversed the main bedroom 
again and found another bedroom to balance the second one, 
but open to the full light of day, and in a state of extreme dis- 
order ; the double-pillowed bed had not even been made ; 
clothes and towels draped all the furniture ; shoes were 
about the floor, and on a piece of string tied across the 
windows hung a single white stocking, wet. At the back was 
a cabinet de toilette, as dark as the other one, a vile malodor- 
ous mess of appliances whose familiar forms loomed vague 
and extraordinarily sinister in the dense obscurity. Sophia 



FEVER. 351 

turned away with the righteous disgust of one whose prepa- 
rations for the gaze of the world are as candid and simple as 
those of a child. Concealed dirt shocked her as much as it 
would have shocked her mother ; and as for the trickeries of 
the toilette table, she contemned them as harshly as a young 
saint who has never been tempted contemns moral weakness. 
She thought of the strange flaccid daily life of those two 
women, whose hours seemed to slip unprofitably away without 
any result of achievement. She had actually witnessed noth- 
.ing ; but since the beginning of her convalescence her ears 
had heard, and she could piece the evidences together. 
There was never any sound in the flat, outside the kitchen, 
until noon. Then vague noises and smells would commence. 
And about one o'clock Madame Foucault, disarrayed, would 
come to inquire if the servant had attended to the needs of 
the invalid. Then the odours of cookery would accentuate 
themselves ; bells rang ; fragments of conversations escaped 
through doors ajar ; occasionally a man's voice or a heavy 
step ; then the fragrance of coffee ; sometimes the sound of 
a kiss, the banging of the front door, the noise of brushing, 
or of the shaking of a carpet, a little scream as at some 
trifling domestic contretemps. Laurence, still in a dressing- 
gown, would lounge into Sophia's room, dirty, haggard, but 
polite with a curious stiff ceremony, and would drink her 
coffee there. This wandering in peignoirs would continue 
till three o'clock, and then Laurence might say, as if nerving 
herself to an unusual and immense effort : " I must be dressed 
by five o'clock. I have not a moment." Often Madame 
Foucault did not dress at all ; on such days she would go 
to bed immediately after dinner, with the remark that she 
didn't know what was the matter with her, but she was ex- 
hausted. And then the servant would retire to her seventh 
floor, and there would be silence until, now and then, faint 
creepings were heard at midnight or after. Once or twice, 
through the chinks of her door, Sophia had seen a light at 
two o'clock in the morning, just before the dawn. 

Yet these were the women who had saved her life, who 
between them had put her into a cold bath every three hours 
night and day for weeks Surely it was impossible after that 
to despise them for shiftlessness and talkative idling in 
peignoirs ; impossible to despise them for anything whatever ! 
But Sophia, conscious of her inheritance of strong and reso- 
lute character, did despise them as poor things. The one 
point on which she envied them was their formal manners 
to her, which seemed to become more dignified and graciously 
distant as her health improved. It was always " Madame," 



352 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Madame," to her, with an intonation of increasing defer- 
ence. They might have been apologizing to her for them- 
selves. 

She prowled into all the corners of the flat ; but she dis- 
covered no more rooms, nothing but a large cupboard 
crammed with Madame Foucault's dresses. Then she went 
back to the large bedroom, and enjoyed the busy movement 
and rattle of the sloping street, and had long, vague yearn- 
ings for strength and for freedom in wide, sane places. She 
decided that on the morrow she would dress herself " prop* 
erly," and never again wear a peignoir ; the peignoir and 
all that it represented, disgusted her. And while looking 
at the street she ceased to see it and saw Cook's office and 
Chirac helping her into the carriage. Where was he ? Why 
had he brought her to this impossible abode ? What did 
he mean by such conduct ? . . . But could he have acted 
otherwise ? He had done the one thing that he could do. 
. '. . Chance ! . . . Chance ! And why an impossible abode ? 
Was one place more impossible than another ? . . . All this 
came of running away from home with Gerald. It was 
remarkable that she seldom thought of Gerald. He had 
vanished from her life as he had come into it madly, pre- 
posterously. She wondered what the next stage in her career 
would be. She certainly could not forecast it. Perhaps 
Gerald was starving, or in prison. . . . Bah ! That ex- 
clamation expressed her appalling disdain of Gerald and of 
the Sophia who had once deemed him the paragon of men. 
Bah! 

A carriage stopping in front of the house awakened her 
from her meditation. Madame Foucault and a man very 
much younger than Madame Foucault got out of it. Sophia 
fled. After all, this prying into other -people's rooms was 
quite inexcusable. She dropped on to her own bed and 
picked up a book, in case Madame Foucault should come in. 



III. 

In the evening, just after night had fallen, Sophia on the 
bed heard the sound of raised and acrimonious voices in 
Madame Foucault's room. Nothing except dinner had hap- 
pened since the arrival of Madame Foucault and the young 
man. These two had evidently dined informally in the bed- 
room on a dish or so prepared by Madame Foucault, who had 
herself served Sophia with her invalid's repast. The odours 
of cookery still hung in the air. 



FEVER. 353 

The noise of virulent discussion increased and continued, 
and then Sophia could hear sobbing, broken by short and 
fierce phrases from the man. Then the door of the bedroom 
opened brusquely. " J'en ai soupe 1 " exclaimed the man, 
in tones of angry disgust. " Laisse-moi, je te prie ! " And 
then a soft muffled sound, as of a struggle, a quick step, and 
the very violent banging of the front door. After that there 
was a noticeable silence, save for the regular sobbing. 
Sophia wondered when it would cease, that monotonous 
sobbing. 

" What is the matter ? " she called out from her bed. 

The sobbing grew louder, like the sobbing of a child who 
has detected an awakening of sympathy and instinctively 
begins to practise upon it. In the end Sophia arose and put 
on the peignoir which she had almost determined never to 
wear again. 

The broad corridor was lighted by a small, smelling oil- 
lamp with a crimson globe. That soft, transforming radiance 
seemed to paint the whole corridor with voluptuous luxury : 
so much so that it was impossible to believe that the smell 
came from the lamp. Under the lamp lay Madame Foucault 
on the floor, a shapeless mass of lace, frilled linen, and 
corset ; her light brown hair was loose and spread about the 
floor. At the first glance, the creature abandoned to grief 
made a romantic and striking picture, and Sophia thought 
for an instant that she had at length encountered life on a 
plane that would correspond to her dreams of romance. 
And she was impressed, with a feeling somewhat akin to that 
of a middling commoner when confronted with a viscount. 
There was, in the distance, something imposing and sensa- 
tional about that prone, trembling figure. The tragic works 
of love were therein apparently manifest, in a sort of dignified 
beauty. But when Sophia bent over Madame Foucault, and 
touched her flabbiness, this illusion at once vanished ; and 
instead of being dramatically pathetic the woman was 
ridiculous. Her face, especially as damaged by tears, could 
not support the ordeal of inspection ; it was horrible ; not 
a picture, but a palette ; or like the coloured design of a 
pavement artist after a heavy shower. Her great, relaxed 
eyelids alone would have rendered any face absurd ; and there 
were monstrous details far worse than the eyelids. Then she 
was amazingly fat ; her flesh seemed to be escaping at all 
ends from a corset strained to the utmost limit. And above 
her boots she was still wearing dainty, high-heeled, tightly 
laced boots the calves bulged suddenly out. 

As a woman of between forty and fifty, the obese sepulchre 

12 



354 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

of a dead vulgar beauty, she had no right to passions and 
tears and homage, or even the means of life ; ' she had no 
right to expose herself picturesquely beneath a crimson glow 
in all the panoply of ribboned garters and lacy seductive- 
ness. It was silly ; it was disgraceful. She ought to have 
known that only youth and slimness have the right to appeal 
to the feelings by indecent abandonments. 

Such were the thoughts that mingled with the sympathy 
of the beautiful and slim Sophia as she bent down to Madame 
Foucault. She was sorry for her landlady, but at the same 
time she despised her, and resented her woe. 

" What is the matter ? " she asked quietly. 

" He has chucked me ! " stammered Madame Foucault. 
" And he's the last. I have no one now ! " 

She rolled over ia the most grotesque manner, kicking up 
her legs, with a fresh outburst of sobs. Sophia felt quite 
ashamed for her. 

" Come and lie down. Come now ! " she said, with 
a touch of sharpness. " You mustn't lie there like 
that." 

Madame Foucault 's behaviour was really too outrageous. 
Sophia helped her, morally rather than physically, to rise, 
and then persuaded her into the large bedroom. Madame 
Foucault fell on the bed, of which the counterpane had been 
thrown over the foot. Sophia covered the lower part of her 
heaving body with the counterpane. 

" Now, calm yourself, please ! " 

This room too was lit in crimson, by a small lamp that 
stood on the night-table, and though the shade of the lamp 
was cracked, the general effect of the great chamber was 
incontestably romantic. Only the pillows of the wide bed 
and a small semicircle of floor were illuminated, all the rest 
lay in shadow. Madame Foucault 's head had dropped be- 
tween the pillows. A tray containing dirty plates and 
glasses and a wine-bottle was speciously picturesque on the 
writing-table. 

Despite her genuine gratitude to Madame Foucault for 
astounding care during her illness, Sophia did not like her 
landlady, and the present scene made her coldly wrathful. 
She saw the probability of having another's troubles piled on 
the top of her own. She did not, in her mind, actively object, 
because she felt that she could not be more hopelessly 
miserable than she was ; but she passively resented the im- 
position. Her reason told her that she ought to sympathize 
with this ageing, ugly, disagreeable, undignified woman ; 
but her heart was reluctant ; her heart did not want to know 



FEVER. 355 

anything at all about Madame Foucault, nor to enter in any 
way into her private life. 

" I have not a single friend now," stammered Madame 
Foucault. 

" Oh, yes, you have," said Sophia, cheerfully. " You 
have Madame Laurence." 

" Laurence that is not a friend. You know what I 
mean." 

" And me 1 I am your friend ! " said Sophia, in obedience 
to her conscience. 

" You are very kind," replied Madame Foucault, from the 
pillow. " But you know what I mean." 

The fact was that Sophia did know what she meant. The 
terms of their intercourse had been suddenly changed. 
There was no pretentious ceremony now, but the sincerity 
that disaster brings. The vast structure of make-believe, 
which between them they had gradually built, had crumbled 
to nothing. 

" I never treated badly any man in my life," whimpered 
Madame Foucault. " I have always been a good girl. 
There is not a man who can say I have not been a good 
girl. Never was I a girl like the rest. And every one has 
said so. Ah I when I tell you that once I had a hotel in the 
Avenue de la Reine Hortense. Four horses ... I have sold 
a horse to Madame Musard. . . . You know Madame Musard. 
. . . But one cannot make economies. Impossible to make 
economies ! Ah ! In 'fifty-six I was spending a hundred 
thousand francs a year. That cannot last. Always I have 
said to myself : ' That cannot last.' Always I had the 
intention. . . . But what would you ? I installed myself 
here, and borrowed money to pay for the furniture. There 
did not remain to me one jewel. The men are poltroons, 
all I I could let three bedrooms for three hundred and fifty 
francs a month, and with serving meals and so on I could 
live." 

" Then that," Sophia interrupted, pointing to her own 
bedroom across the corridor, " is your room ? " 

" Yes," said Madame Foucault. " I put you in it because 
at the moment all these were let. They are so no longer. 
Only one Laurence and she does not pay me always. 
What would you ? Tenants that does not find itself at the 
present hour. ... I have nothing, and I owe. And he 
quits me. He chooses this moment to quit me ! And 
why ? For nothing. For nothing. That is not for his 
money that I regret him. No, no ! You know, at his age 
h is twenty-five and with a woman like me one is not 



356 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

generous.! No. I loved him. And then a man is a moral 
support, always. I loved him. It is at my age, mine, that 
one knows how to love. Beauty goes always, but not the 
temperament ! Ah, that No 1 ... I loved him. I love 
him." 

Sophia's face tingled with a sudden emotion caused by the 
repetition of those last three words, whose spell no usage can 
mar. But she said nothing. 

" Do you know what I shall become ? There is nothing 
but that for me. And I know of such, who are there already. 
A charwoman ! Yes, a charwoman ! More soon or more 
late. Well, that is life. What would you ? One exists 
always." Then in a different tone : " I demand your 
pardon, madame, for talking like this. I ought to have 
shame." 

And Sophia felt that in listening she also ought to be 
ashamed. But she was not ashamed. Everything seemed 
very natural, and even ordinary. And, moreover, Sophia 
was full of the sense of her superiority over the woman on 
the bed. Four years ago, in the Restaurant Sylvain, the 
ingenuous and ignorant Sophia had shyly sat in awe of the 
resplendent courtesan, with her haughty stare, her large, 
easy gestures, and her imperturbable contempt for the man 
who was paying. And now Sophia knew that she, Sophia, 
knew all that was to be known about human nature. She 
had not merely youth, beauty, and virtue, but knowledge 
knowledge enough to reconcile her to her -own misery. She 
had a vigorous, clear mind, and a clean conscience. She 
could look any one in the face, and judge every one too as 
a woman of the world. Whereas this obscene wreck on the 
bed had nothing whatever left. She had not merely lost 
her effulgent beauty, she had become repulsive. She could 
never have had any commonsense, nor any force of char- 
acter. Her haughtiness in the day of glory was simply 
fatuous, based on stupidity. She had passed the years in 
idleness, trailing about all day in stuffy rooms, and emerging 
at night to impress nincompoops ; continually meaning to 
do things which she never did, continually surprised at the 
lateness of the hour, continually occupied with the most 
foolish trifles. And here she was at over forty writhing 
about on the bare floor because a boy of twenty-five (who 
must be a worthless idiot) had abandoned her after a scene 
of ridiculous shoutings and stampings. She was dependent 
on the caprices of a young scamp, the last donkey to turn 
from her with loathing ! Sophia thought : " Goodness ! 
If I had been in her place I shouldn't have been like that. 



FEVER. 357 

I should have been rich. I should have saved like a miser. 
I wouldn't have been dependent on anybody at that age. 
If I couldn't have made a better courtesan than this piti- 
able woman, I would have drowned myself." 

In the harsh vanity of her conscious capableness and 
young strength she thought thus, half forgetting her own 
follies, and half excusing them on the ground of inexperi- 
ence. 

Sophia wanted to go round the flat and destroy every 
crimson lampshade in it. She wanted to shake Madame 
Foucault into self-respect and sagacity. Moral reprehen- 
sion, though present in her mind, was only faint. Cer- 
tainly she felt the immense gulf between the honest woman 
and the wanton, but she did not feel it as she would have 
expected to feel it. " What a fool you have been ! " she 
thought ; not : " Wha't a sinner ! " With her precocious cyni- 
cism, which was somewhat unsuited to the lovely northern 
youthfulness of that face, she said to herself that the whole 
situation and their relative attitudes would have been dif- 
ferent if only Madame Foucault had had the wit to amass 
a fortune, as (according to Gerald) some of her rivals had 
succeeded in doing. 

And all the time she was thinking, in another part of her 
mind : "I ought not to be here. It's no use arguing. I 
ought not to be here. Chirac did the only thing for me there 
was to do. But I must go now." 

Madame Foucault continued to recite her woes, chiefly 
financial, in a weak voice damp with tears ; she also con- 
tinued to apologize for mentioning herself. She had finished 
sobbing, and lay looking at the wall, away from Sophia, who 
stood irresolute near the bed, ashamed for her companion's 
weakness and incapacity. 

" You must not forget," said Sophia, irritated by the un- 
relieved darkness of the picture drawn by Madame Foucault, 
" that at least I owe you a considerable sum, and that I am 
only waiting for you to tell me how much it is. I have 
asked you twice already, I think." 

" Oh, you are still suffering ! " said Madame Foucault. 

" I am quite well enough to pay my debts," said Sophia. 

" I do not like to accept money from you," said Madame 
Foucault. 

" But why not ? " 

" You will have the doctor to pay." 

" Please do not talk in that way," said Sophia. " I have 
money, and I can pay for everything, and I shall pay for 
everything." 



358 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

She was annoyed because she was sure that Madame 
Foucault was only making a pretence of delicacy, and that 
in any case her delicacy was preposterous. Sophia had re- 
marked this on the two previous occasions when she had 
mentioned the subject of bills. Madame Foucault would 
not treat her as an ordinary lodger, now that the illness was 
past. She wanted, as it were, to complete brilliantly what 
she had begun, and to live in Sophia's memory as a unique 
figure of lavish philanthropy. This was a sentiment, a 
luxury that she desired to offer herself : the thought that 
she had played providence to a respectable married lady 
in distress ; she frequently hinted at Sophia's misfortunes 
and helplessness. But she could not afford the luxury. 
She gazed at it as a poor woman gazes at costly stuffs through 
the glass of a shop-window. The truth was, she wanted the 
luxury for nothing. For a double reason Sophia was ex- 
asperated : by Madame Foucault's absurd desire, and by a 
natural objection to the rdle of a subject for philanthropy. 
She would not admit that Madame Foucault's devotion as 
a nurse entitled her to the satisfaction of being a philan- 
thropist when there was no necessity for philanthropy. 

" How long have I been here ? " asked Sophia. 

" I don't know," murmured Madame Foucault. " Eight 
weeks or is it nine ? " 

" Suppose we say nine," said Sophia. 

" Very well," agreed Madame Foucault, apparently re- 
luctant. 

" Now, how much must I pay you per week ? " 

" I don't want anything I. don't want anything ! You 
are a friend of Chirac's. You " 

" Not at all ! " Sophia interrupted, tapping her foot and 
biting her lip. " Naturally I must pay." 

Madame Foucault wept quietly. 

" Shall I pay you seventy-five francs a week ? " said 
Sophia, anxious to end the matter. 

" It is too much ! " Madame Foucault protested, in- 
sincerely. 

" What ? For all you have done for me ? " 

" I speak not of that," Madame Foucault modestly re- 
plied. 

If the devotion was not to be paid for, then seventy-five 
francs a week was assuredly too much, as during more than 
half the time Sophia had had almost no food. Madame 
Foucault was therefore within the truth when she again pro- 
tested, at sight of the bank-notes which Sophia brought 
from her trunk : 



FEVER. 359 

" I am sure that it is too much." 

" Not at all 1 " Sophia repeated. " Nine weeks at seventy- 
five. That makes six hundred and seventy-five. Here are 
seven hundreds." 

" I have no change," said Madame Foucault. " I have 
nothing." 

" That will pay for the hire of the bath," said Sophia. 

She laid the notes on the pillow. Madame Foucault looked 
r.t them gluttonously, as any other person would have done 
in her place. She did not touch them. After an instant 
she burst into wild tears. 

" But why do you cry ? " Sophia asked, softened. 

" I I don't know ! " spluttered Madame Foucault. 
" You are so beautiful. I am so content that w saved 
you." Her great wet eyes rested on Sophia. 

It was sentimentality. Sophia ruthlessly set it down as 
sentimentality. But she was touched. She was suddenly 
moved. Those women, such as they were in their foolish- 
ness, probably had saved her life and she a stranger ! 
Flaccid as they were, they had been capable of resolute per- 
severance there. It was possible to say that chance had 
thrown them upon an enterprise which they could not have 
abandoned till they or deatji had won. It was possible 
to say that they hoped vaguely to derive advantage from 
their labours. But even then ? Judged by an ordinary 
standard, those women had been angels of mercy. And 
Sophia was despising them, cruelly taking their motives to 
pieces, accusing them of incapacity when she herself stood a 
supreme proof of their capacity in, at any rate, one direction ! 
In a rush of emotion she saw her hardness and her injustice. 

She bent down. " Never can I forget how kind you have 
been to me. It is incredible 1 Incredible ! " She spoke 
softly, in tones loaded with genuine feeling. It was all she 
said. She could not embroider on the theme. She had no 
talent for thanksgiving. 

Madame Foucault made the beginning of a gesture, as if 
she meant to kiss Sophia with those thick, marred lips ; 
but refrained. Her head sank back, and then she had a 
recurrence of the fit of nervous sobbing. Immediately 
afterwards there was the sound of a latchkey in the front- 
door of the flat ; the bedroom door was open. Still sobbing 
very violently, she cocked her ear, and pushed the bank- 
notes under the pillow. 

Madame Laurence as she was called : Sophia had never 
heard her surname came straight into the bedroom, and 
beheld the scene with astonishment hi her dark twinkling 



360 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

eyes. She was usually dressed in black, because people 
said that black suited her, and because black was never out 
of fashion ; black was an expression of her idiosyncrasy. 
She showed a certain elegance, and by comparison with the 
extreme disorder of Madame Foucault and the deshabille 
of Sophia her appearance, all fresh from a modish restau- 
rant, was brilliant ; it gave her an advantage over the other 
two that moral advantage which ceremonial raiment always 
gives. 

" What is it that passes ? " she demanded. 

" He has chucked me, Laurence ! " exclaimed Madame 
Foucault, in a sort of hysteric scream which ^seemed to force 
its way through her sobs. From the extraordinary fresh- 
ness of Madame Foucault's woe, it might have been supposed 
that her young man had only that instant strode out. 

Laurence and Sophia exchanged a swift glance ; and 
Laurence, of course, perceived that Sophia's relations with 
her landlady and nurse were now of a different, a more 
candid order. She indicated her perception of the change by 
a single slight movement of the eyebrows. 

" But listen, Aimee," she said authoritatively. " You 
must not let yourself go like that. He will return." 

" Never ! " cried Madame Foucault. "It is finished. 
And he is the last ! " 

Laurence, ignoring Madame Foucault, approached Sophia. 
" You have an air very fatigued," she said, caressing Sophia's 
shoulder with her gloved hand. " You are pale like every- 
thing. All this is not for you. It is not reasonable to 
remain here, you still suffering ! At this hour ! Truly not 
reasonable ! " 

Her hands persuaded Sophia towards the corridor. And, 
in fact, Sophia did then notice her own exhaustion. She 
departed from the room with the ready obedience of physical 
weakness, and shut her door. 

After about half an hour, during which she heard confused 
noises and murmurings, her door half opened. 

" May I enter, since you are not asleep ? " It was Lau- 
rence's voice. Twice, now, she had addressed Sophia without 
adding the formal " madame." 

" Enter, I beg you," Sophia called from the bed. " I am 
reading." 

Laurence came in. Sophia was both glad and sorry to 
see her. She was eager to hear gossip which, however, 
she felt 'she ought to despise. Moreover, she knew that if 
they talked that night they would talk as friends, and that 
Laurence would ever afterwards treat her with the famili- 



FEVER. 361 

arity of a friend. This she dreaded. Still, she knew that 
she would yield, at any rate, to the temptation to listen to 
gossip. 

" I have put her to bed," said Laurence, in a whisper, 
as she cautiously closed the door. " The poor woman ! 
Oh, what a charming bracelet ! It is a true pearl, natur- 
ally ? " 

Her roving eye had immediately, with an infallible in- 
stinct, caught sight of a bracelet which, in taking stock of 
her possessions, Sophia had accidentally left on the piano. 
She picked it up, and then put it down again. 

" Yes," said Sophia. She was about to add : " It's nearly 
all the jewellery I possess ; " but she stopped. 

Laurence moved towards Sophia's bed, and stood over 
it as she had often done in her quality of nurse. She had 
taken off her gloves, and she made a piquant, pretty show, 
with her thirty years, and her agreeable, slightly roguish 
face, in which were mingled the knowingness of a street 
boy and the confidence of a woman who has ceased to be 
surprised at the influence of her snub nose on a highly in- 
telligent man. 

" Did she tell you what they had quarrelled about ? " 
Laurence inquired abruptly. And not only the phrasing 
of the question, but the assured tone in which it was uttered, 
showed that Laurence meant to be the familiar of Sophia. 

" Not a word ! " said Sophia. 

In this brief question and reply, all was crudely implied 
that had previously been supposed not to exist. The rela- 
tions between the two women were altered irretrievably in 
a moment. 

" It must have been her fault ! " said Laurence. " With 
men she is insupportable. I have never understood how 
that poor woman has made her way. With women she is 
charming. But she seems to be incapable of -not treating 
men like dogs. Some men adore that, but they are few. 
Is it not ? " 

Sophia smiled. 

" I have told her ! How many times have I told her ! 
But it is useless. It is stronger than she is, and if she finishes 
on straw one will be able to say that it was because of that. 
But truly she ought not to have asked him here ! Truly that 
was too much ! If he knew . . . ! " 

" Why not ? " asked Sophia, awkwardly. The answer 
startled her. 

" Because her room has not been disinfected." 

" But I thought all the flat had been disinfected ? " 
12 a 



362 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" All except her room." 

" But why not her room ? " 

Laurence shrugged her shoulders. " She did not want 
to disturb her things ! Is it that I know, I ? She is like 
that. She takes an idea and then, there you are ! " 

" She told me every room had been disinfected." 

" She told the same to the police and the doctor." 

" Then all the disinfection is useless ? " 

" Perfectly ! But she is like that. This flat might be 
very remunerative ; but with her, never ! She has not even 
paid for the furniture after two years ! " 

" But what will become of her ? " Sophia asked. 

"Ah that!" Another shrug of the shoulders. "All 
that I know is that it will be necessary for me to leave here. 
The last time I brought Monsieur Cerf here, she was excess- 
ively rude to him. She has doubtless told you about Mon- 
sieur Cerf ? " 

" No. Who is Monsieur Cerf ? " 

" Ah ! She has not told you ? That astonishes me. 
Monsieur Cerf, that is my friend, you know." 

" Oh 1 " murmured Sophia. 

" Yes," Laurence proceeded, impelled by a desire to im- 
press Sophia and to gossip at large. " That is my friend. 
I knew him at the hospital. It was to please him that I 
left the hospital. After that we quarrelled for two years ; 
but at the end he gave me right. I did not budge. Two 
years ! It is long. And I had left the hospital. I could 
have gone back. But I would not. That is not a life, to 
be nurse in a Paris hospital ! No, I drew myself out as 
well as I could. . . . He is the most charming boy you can 
imagine ! And rich now ; that is to say, relatively. He 
has a cousin infinitely more rich than he. I dined with them 
both to-night at the Maison Dor6e. For a luxurious boy, 
he is a luxurious boy the cousin I mean. It appears that 
he has made a fortune in Canada." 

" Truly ! " said Sophia, with politeness. Laurence's hand 
was playing on the edge of the bed, and Sophia observed for 
the first time that it bore a wedding-ring. 

" You remark my ring ? " Laurence laughed. " That is 
he the cousin. ' What ! ' he said, ' you do not wear an 
alliance? An alliance is more proper. We are going to 
arrange that after dinner.' I said that all the jewellers' 
shops would be closed. ' That is all the same to me,' he 
said. ' We will Open one.' And in effect ... it passed 
like that. He succeeded 1 Is it not beautiful ? " She held 
forth her hand. 



FEVER. 363 

" Yes," said Sophia. " It is very beautiful." 

" Yours also is beautiful," said Laurence, with an ex- 
tremely puzzling intonation. 

" It is just the ordinary English wedding-ring," said 
Sophia. In spite of herself she blushed. 

' Now I have married you. It is I, the cureV said he 
the cousin when he put the ring on my finger. Oh, he 
is excessively amusing ! He pleases me much. And he is 
all alone. He asked me whether I knew among my friends 
a sympathetic, pretty girl, to make four with us three for a 
picnic. I said I was not sure, but I thought not. Whom 
do I know ? Nobody. I'm not a woman like the rest. I 
am always discreet. I do not like casual relations. . . . 
But he is very well, the cousin. Brown eyes. ... It is 
an idea will you come, one day ? He speaks English. 
He loves the English. He is all that is most correct, the 
perfect gentleman. He would arrange a dazzling fete. I 
am sure he would be enchanted to make your acquaintance. 
Enchanted ! ... As for my Charles, happily he is com- 
pletely mad about me otherwise I should have fear." 

She smiled, and in her smile was a genuine respect for 
Sophia's face. 

" I fear I cannot come," said Sophia. She honestly en- 
deavoured to keep out of her reply any accent of moral 
superiority, but she did not quite succeed. She was not 
at all horrified by Laurence's suggestion. She meant 
simply to refuse it ; but she could not do so in a natural 
voice. 

" It is true you are not yet strong enough," said the im- 
perturbable Laurence, quickly, and with a perfect imita- 
tion of naturalness. " But soon you must make a little 
promenade." She stared at her ring. " After all, it is 
more proper," she observed judicially. " With a wedding- 
ring one is less likely to be annoyed. What is curious is 
that the idea never before came to me. Yet . . ." 

" You like jewellery ? " said Sophia. 

" If I like jewellery I " with a gesture of the hands. 

" Will you pass me that bracelet ? " 

Laurence obeyed, and Sophia clasped it round the girl's 
wrist. 

" Keep it," Sophia said. 

" For me ? " Laurence exclaimed, ravished. " It is too 
much." 

" It is not enough," said Sophia. " And when you look 
at it, you must remember how kind you were to me, and 
how grateful I am." 



3 6 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" How nicely you say that ! " Laurence said ecstati- 
cally. 

And Sophia felt that she had indeed said it rather nicely. 
This giving of the bracelet, souvenir of one of the few cap- 
ricious follies that Gerald had committed for her and not for 
himself, pleased Sophia very much. 

" I am afraid your nursing of mo forced you to neglect 
Monsieur Cerf," she added. 

" Yes, a little ! " said Laurence, impartially, with a small 
pout of haughtiness. " It is true that he used to complain. 
But I soon put him straight. What an idea ! He knows 
there are things upon which I do not joke. It is not he 
who will quarrel a second time ! Believe me ! " 

Laurence's absolute conviction of her power was what im- 
pressed Sophia. To Sophia she seemed to be a vulgar little 
piece of goods, with dubious charm and a glance that was 
far too brazen. Her movements were vulgar. And Sophia 
wondered how she had established her empire and upon what 
it rested. 

" I shall not show this to Aim6e," whispered Laurence, 
indicating the bracelet. 

" As you wish," said Sophia. 

" By the way, have I told you that war is declared ? " 
Laurence casually remarked. 

" No," said Sophia. " What war ? " 

" The scene with Aim6e made me forget it. ... With 
Germany. The city is quite excited. An immense crowd in 
front of the New Opera. They say we shall be at Berlin in 
a month or at most two months." 

" Oh 1 " Sophia muttered. " Why is there a war ? " 

" Ah ! It is I who asked that. Nobody knows. It is 
those Prussians." 

" Don't you think we ought to begin again with the dis- 
infecting ? Sophia asked anxiously. " I must speak to 
Madame Foucault." 

Laurence told her not to worry, and went off to show the 
bracelet to Madame Foucault. She had privately decided 
that this was a pleasure which, after all, she could not deny 
herself. 



IV. 

About a fortnight later it was a fine Saturday in early 
August Sophia, with a large pinafore over her dress, was 



FEVER. 365 

finishing the portentous preparations for disinfecting the 
flat. Part of the affair was already accomplished, her own 
room and the corridor having been fumigated on the pre- 
vious day, in spite of the opposition of Madame Foucault, 
who had taken amiss Laurence's tale-bearing to Sophia. 
Laurence had left the flat under exactly what circumstances 
Sophia knew not, but she guessed that it must have been 
in consequence of a scene elaborating the tiff caused by 
Madame Foucault's resentment against Laurence. The 
brief, factitious friendliness between Laurence and Sophia 
had gone like a dream, and Laurence had gone like a dream. 
The servant had been dismissed ; in her place Madame Fou- 
cault employed a charwoman each morning for two hours. 
Finally, Madame Foucault had been suddenly called away 
that morning by a letter to her sick father at St. Mammds- 
sur-Seine. Sophia was delighted at the chance. The disin- 
fecting of the flat had become an obsession with Sophia the 
obsession of a convalescent whose perspective unconsciously 
twists things to the most wry shapes. She had had trouble 
on the day before with Madame Foucault, and she was 
expecting more serious trouble when the moment arrived 
for ejecting Madame Foucault as well as all her movable 
belongings from Madame Foucault's own room. Never- 
theless, Sophia had been determined, whatever should 
happen, to complete an honest fumigation of the entire 
flat. Hence the eagerness with which, urging Madame 
Foucault to go to her father, Sophia had protested that 
she was perfectly strong and could manage by herself for a 
couple of days. Owing to the partial suppression of the 
ordinary railway services in favour of military needs, 
Madame Foucault could not hope to go and return on the 
same day. Sophia had lent her a louis. 

Pans of sulphur were mysteriously burning in each of the 
three front rooms, and two pairs of doors had been pasted 
over with paper, to prevent the fumes from escaping. The 
charwoman had departed. Sophia, with brush, scissors, 
flour-paste, and news-sheets, was sealing the third pair of 
doors, when there was a ring at the front door. 

She had only to cross the corridor in order to open. 

It was Chirac. She was not surprised to see him. The 
outbreak of the war had induced even Sophia and her land- 
lady to look through at least one newspaper during the day, 
and she had in this way learnt, from an article signed by 
Chirac, that he had returned to Paris after a mission into 
the Vosges country for his paper. 

He started on seeing her. " Ah ! " He breathed out the 



366 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

exclamation slowly. And then smiled, seized her hand, and 
kissed it. 

The sight of his obvious extreme pleasure in meeting her 
again was the sweetest experience that had fallen to Sophia 
for years. 

" Then you are cured ? " 

" Quite." 

He sighed. " You know, this is an enormous relief to 
me, to know, veritably, that you are no longer in danger. 
You gave me a fright . . . but a fright, my dear ma- 
dame ! " 

She smiled in silence. 

As he glanced inquiringly up and down the corridor, she 
said 

" I'm all alone in the flat. I'm disinfecting it." 

" Then that is sulphur that I smell ? " 

She nodded. " Excuse me while I finish this door," she 
said. 

He closed the front-door. " But you seem to be quite at 
home here ! " he observed. 

" I ought to be," said she. 

He glanced again inquiringly up and down the corridor. 
** And you are really all alone now ? " he asked, as though 
to be doubly sure. 

She explained the circumstances. 

" I owe you my most sincere excuses for bringing you here," 
he said confidentially. 

" But why ? " she replied, looking intently at her door. 
" They have been most kind to me. Nobody could have 
been kinder. And Madame Laurence being such a good 
nurse " 

" It is true," said he. " That was a reason. In effect 
they are both very good-natured little women. . . . You 
comprehend, as journalist it arrives to me to know all 
kinds of people . . ." He snapped his fingers ..." And 
as we were opposite the house. In fine, I pray you to excuse 
me . . ." 

" Hold me this paper," she said. " It is necessary that 
every crack should be covered ; also between the floor and 
the door." 

" You English are wonderful," he murmured, as he took 
the paper. " Imagine you doing that ! Then," he added, 
resuming the confidential tone, " I suppose you will leave 
the Foucault now, hein ? " 

" I suppose so," she said carelessly. 

" You go to England ? " 



FEVER. 367 

She turned to him, as she patted the creases out of a strip 
of paper with a duster, and shook her head. 

" Not to England ? " 

"No." 

" If it is not indiscreet, where are you going ? " 

" I don't know," she said candidly. 

And she did not know. She was without a plan. Her 
brain told her that she ought to return to Bursley, or, at 
the least, write. But her pride would not hear of such a 
surrender. Her situation would have to be far more des- 
perate than it was before she could confess her defeat to 
her family even in a letter. A thousand times no ! That 
was a point which she had for ever decided. She would 
face any disaster, and any other shame, rather than the 
shame of her family's forgiving reception of her. 

" And you ? " she asked. " How does it go ? This war ? " 

He told her, in a few words, a few leading facts about 
himself. " It must not be said," he added of the war, " but 
that will turn out ill 1 I I know, you comprehend." 

' Truly ? " she answered with casualness. 

' You have heard nothing of him ? " Chirac asked. 

' Who ? Gerald ? " 

;Ie gave a gesture. 

' Nothing ! Not a word ! Nothing t " 

' He will have gone back to England ! " 

' Never ! " she said positively. 

' But why not ? " 

' Because he prefers France. He really does like France. 
I think it is the only real passion he ever had." 

"It is astonishing," reflected Chirac, " how France is 
loved ! And yet . . . ! But to live, what will he do ? 
Must live ! " 

Sophia merely shrugged her shoulders. 

" Then it is finished between you two ? " he muttered 
awkwardly. 

She nodded. She was on her knees, at the lower crack 
of the doors. 

" There ! " she said, rising. " It's well done, isn't it ? 
That is all." 

She smiled at him, facing him squarely, in the obscurity 
of the untidy and shabby corridor. Both felt that they had 
become very intimate. He was intensely flattered by her 
attitude, and she knew it. 

" Now," she said, " I will take off my pinafore. Where 
can I niche you ? There is only my bedroom, and I want 
that. What are we to do ?" 



368 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Listen," he suggested diffidently. " Will you do me 
the honour to come for a drive ? That will do you good. 
There is sunshine. And you are always very pale." 

" With pleasure," she agreed cordially. 

While dressing, she heard him walking up and down the 
corridor ; occasionally they exchanged a few words. Before 
leaving, Sophia pulled off the paper from one of the key- 
holes of the sealed suite of rooms, and they peered through, 
one after the other, and saw the green glow of the sulphur, 
and were troubled by its uncanniness. And then Sophia 
refixed the paper. 

In descending the stairs of the house she felt the infirmity 
of her knees ; but in other respects, though she had been out 
only once before since her illness, she was conscious of a 
sufficient strength. A disinclination for any enterprise had 
prevented her from taking the air as she ought to have 
done, but within the flat she had exercised her limbs in 
many small tasks. The little Chirac, nervously active and 
restless, wanted to take her arm, but she would not allow it. 

The concierge and part of her family stared curiously at 
Sophia as she passed under the archway, for the course of her 
illness had excited the interest of the whole house. Just as 
the carriage was driving off, the concierge came across the 
pavement and paid her compliments, and then said : 

" You do not know by hazard why Madame Foucault has 
not returned for lunch, madame ? " 

" Returned for lunch ! " said Sophia. " She will not come 
back till to-morrow." 

The concierge made a face. " Ah ! How curious it is ! 
She told my husband that she would return in two hours. 
It is very grave ! Question of business." 

" I know nothing, madame," said Sophia. She and Chirac 
looked at each other. The concierge murmured thanks and 
went off muttering indistinctly. 

The fiacre turned down the Rue Laferridre, the horse 
slipping and sliding as usual over the cobblestones. Soon 
they were on the boulevard, making for the Champs Elysees 
and the Bois de Boulogne. 

The fresh breeze and bright sunshine and the large freedom 
of the streets quickly intoxicated Sophia intoxicated her, 
that is to say, in quite a physical sense. She was almost 
drunk, with the heady savour of life itself. A mild ecstasy 
of well-being overcame her. She saw the flat as a horrible, 
vile prison, and blamed herself for not leaving' it sooner and 
oftener. The air was medicine, for body and mind too. Her 
perspective was instantly corrected. She was happy, living 



FEVER. 369 

neither in the past nor in the future, but in and for that 
hour. And beneath her happiness moved a wistful melan- 
choly for the Sophia who had suffered such a captivity and 
such woes. She yearned for more and yet more delight, for 
careless orgies of passionate pleasure, in the midst of which 
she would forget all trouble. Why had she refused the 
offer of Laurence ? Why had she not rushed at once into the 
splendid fire of joyous indulgence, ignoring everything but the 
crude, sensuous instinct ? Acutely aware as she was of her 
youth, her beauty, and her charm, she wondered at her re- 
fusal. She did not regret her refusal. She placidly observed 
it as the result of some tremendously powerful motive in 
herself, which could not be questioned or reasoned with 
which was, in fact, the essential her. 

" Do I look like an invalid ? " she asked, leaning back 
luxuriously in the carriage among the crowd of other vehicles. 

Chirac hesitated. "My faith! Yes!" he said at length. 
" But it becomes you. If I did not know that you have little 
love for compliments, I " 

" But I adore compliments ! " she exclaimed. " What 
made you think that ? " 

" Well, then," he youthfully burst out, " you are more 
ravishing than ever." 

She gave herself up deliciously to his admiration. 

After a silence, be said : " Ah ! if you knew how dis- 
quieted I was about you, away there . . . ! I should not know 
how to tell you. Veritably disquieted, you comprehend ! 
What could 1 do ? Tell me a little about your illness." 

She recounted details. 

As the fiacre entered the Rue Royale, they noticed a crowd 
of people in front of the Madeleine shouting and cheering. 

The cabman turned towards them. " It appears there 
has been a victory ! " he said. 

" A victory ! If only it was true ! " murmured Chirac, 
cynically. 

In the Rue Royale people were running frantically to and 
fro, laughing and gesticulating in glee. The customers in 
the cafes stood on their chairs, and even on tables, to watch, 
and occasionally to join in, the sudden fever. The fiacre 
was slowed to a walking pace. Flags and carpets began to 
show from the upper storeys of houses. The crowd grew 
thicker and more febrile. " Victory ! Victory ! " rang 
hoarsely, shrilly, and hoarsely again in the air. 

" My God ! " said Chirac, trembling. " It must be a true 
victory ! We are saved ! We are saved ! ... Oh yes, 
it is true ! " 



370 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" But naturally it is true ! What are you saying ? " 
demanded the driver. 

At the Place de la Concorde the fiacre had to stop alto- 

f ether. The immense square was a sea of white hats and 
owers and happy faces, with carriages anchored like boats 
on its surface. Flag after flag waved out from neighbouring 
roofs in the breeze that tempered the August sun. Then 
hats began to go up, and cheers rolled across the square like 
echoes of firing in an enclosed valley. Chirac's driver jumped 
madly on to his seat, and cracked his whip. 

" Vive la France 1 " he bawled with all the force of his 
lungs. 

A thousand throats answered him. 

Then there was a stir behind them. Another carriage 
was being slowly forced to the front. The crowd was 
pushing it, and crying, " Marseillaise ! Marseillaise ! " In 
the carriage was a woman alone ; not beautiful, but distin- 
guished, and with the assured gaze of one who is accus- 
tomed to homage and multitudinous applause. 

"It is Gueymard ! " said Chirac to Sophia. He was very 
pale. And he too shouted, " Marseillaise ! " All his features 
were distorted. 

The woman rose and spoke to her coachman, who offered 
his hand, and she climbed to the box seat, and stood on it and 
bowed several times. 

" Marseillaise ! " The cry continued. Then a roar of 
cheers, and then silence spread round the square like an 
inundation. And amid this silence the woman began to sing 
the Marseillaise. As she sang, the tears ran down her 
cheeks. Everybody in the vicinity was weeping or sternly 
frowning. In the pauses of the first verse could be heard 
the rattle of horses bits, or a whistle of a tug on the river. 
The refrain, signalled by a proud challenging toss of Guey- 
mard 's head, leapt up like a tropical tempest, formidable, 
overpowering. Sophia, who had had no warning of the 
emotion gathering within her, sobbed violently. At the close 
of the hymn Gueymard's carriage was assaulted by worship- 
pers. All around, in the tumult of shouting, men were kissing 
and embracing each other ; and hats went up continually in 
fountains. Chirac leaned over the side of the carriage and 
wrung the hand of a man who was standing by the wheel. 

" Who is that ? " Sophia asked, in an unsteady voice, to 
break the inexplicable tension within her. 

" I don't know," said Chirac. He was weeping like a 
child. And he sang out : " Victory ! To Berlin I Victory ! " 



FEVER. 371 



V. 

Sophia walked alone, with tired limbs, up the damaged 
oak stairs to the flat. Chirac had decided that, in the cir- 
cumstances of the victory, he would do well to go to the 
offices of his paper rather earlier than usual. He had brought 
her back to the Rue Br6da. They had taken leave of each 
other in a sort of dream or general enchantment due to their 
participation in the vast national delirium which somehow 
dominated individual feelings. They did not define their 
relations. They had been conscious only of emotion. 

The stairs, which smelt of damp even in summer, disgusted 
Sophia. She thought of the flat with horror and longed for 
green places and luxury. On the landing were two stoutish, 
ill-dressed men, of middle age, apparently waiting. Sophia 
found her key and opened the door. 

" Pardon, madame I " said one of the men, raising his hat, 
and they both pushed into the flat after her. They stared, 
puzzled, at the strips of paper pasted on the doors. 

" What do you want ? " she asked haughtily. She was very 
frightened. The extraordinary irruption brought her down 
with a shock to the scale of the individual. 

" I am the concierge," said the man who had addressed 
her. He had the air of a superior artisan. " It was my 
wife who spoke to you this afternoon. This," pointing to 
his companion, " this is the law. I regret it, but . . ." 

The law saluted and shut the door. Like the concierge 
the law emitted an odour the odour of uncleanliness on a 
hot August day. 

" The rent ?'" exclaimed Sophia. 

" No, madame, not the rent : the furniture ! " 

Then she learnt the history of the furniture. It had be- 
longed to the concierge, who had acquired it from a previous 
tenant and sold it on credit to Madame Foucault. Madame 
Foucault had signed bills and had not met them. She had 
made 'promises and broken them. She had done everything 
except discharge her liabilities. She had been warned and 
warned again. That day had been fixed as the last limit, 
and she had solemnly assured her creditor that on that day 
she would pay. On leaving the house she had stated pre- 
cisely and clearly that she would return before lunch with 
all the money. She had made no mention of a sick father. 

Sophia slowly perceived the extent of Madame Foucault's 
duplicity and moral cowardice. No doubt the sick father 
was an invention. The woman, at the end of a tether which 



372 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

no ingenuity of lies could further lengthen, had probably 
absented herself solely to avoid the pain of witnessing the 
seizure. She would do anything, however silly, to avoid an 
immediate unpleasantness. Or perhaps she had absented 
herself without any particular aim, but simply in the hope 
that something fortunate might occur. Perhaps she had 
hoped that Sophia, taken unawares, would generously pay. 
Sophia smiled grimly. 

" Well," she said. " I can't do anything. I suppose you 
must do what you have to do. You will let me pack up my 
own affairs ? " 

" Perfectly, madame ! " 

She warned them as to the danger of opening the sealed 
rooms. The man of the law seemed prepared to stay in 
the corridor indefinitely. No prospect of delay disturbed 
him. 

Strange and disturbing, the triumph of the concierge ! 
He was a locksmith by trade. He and his wife and their 
children lived in two little dark rooms by the archway an 
insignificant fragment of the house. He was away from 
home about fourteen hours every day, except Sundays, when 
he washed the courtyard. All the other duties of the 
concierge were performed by the wife. The pair always 
looked poor, untidy, dirty, and rather forlorn. But they 
were steadily levying toll on everybody in the big house. 
They amassed money in fort}' ways. They lived for money, 
and all men have what they live for. With what arrogant 
gestures Madame Foucault would descend from a carriage 
at the great door ! What respectful attitudes and tones the 
ageing courtesan would receive from the wife and children 
of the concierge ! But beneath these conventional fictions 
the truth was that the concierge held the whip. At last he 
was using it. And he had given himself a half-holiday in 
order to celebrate his second acquirement of the ostentatious 
furniture and the crimson lampshades. This was one of the 
dramatic crises in his career as a man of substance. The 
national thrill of victory had not penetrated into the flat 
with the concierge and the law. The emotions of the con- 
cierge wr entirely independent of the Napoleonic foreign 
policy. 

As Sophia, sick with a sudden disillusion, was putting her 
things together, and wondering where she was to go, and 
whether it would be politic to consult Chirac, she heard a 
fluster at the front door : cries, protestations, implorings. 
Her own door was thrust open, and Madame Foucault 
burst in. 



FEVER. 373 

" Save me ! " exclaimed Madame Foucault, sinking t the 
ground. 

The feeble theatricality of the gesture offended Sophia's 
taste. She asked sternly what Madame Foucault expected 
her to do. Had not Madame Foucault knowingly exposed 
her, without the least warning, to the extreme annoyance 
of this visit of the law, a visit which meant practically that 
Sophia was put into the street ? 

You must not be hard ! " Madame Foucault sobbed. 

Sophia learnt the complete history of the woman's efforts 
to pay for the furniture : a farrago of folly and deceptions. 
Madame Foucault confessed too much. Sophia scorned con- 
fession for the sake of confession. She scorned the impulse 
which forces a weak creature to insist on its weakness, to 
revel in remorse, and to find an excuse for its conduct in 
the very fact that there is no excuse. She gathered that 
Madame Foucault had in fact gone away in the hope that 
Sophia, trapped, would pay ; and that in the end, she had 
not even had the courage of her own trickery, and had run 
back, driven by panic into audacity, to fall at Sophia's feet, 
lest Sophia might not have yielded and the furniture have 
been seized. From beginning to end the conduct of Madame 
Foucault had been fatuous and despicable and wicked. 
Sophia coldly condemned Madame Foucault for having al- 
lowed herself to be brought into the world with such a weak 
and maudlin character, and for having allowed herself to grow 
old and ugly. As a sight the woman was positively dis- 
graceful. 

" Save me ! " she exclaimed again. " I did what I could 
for you ! " 

Sophia hated her. But the logic of the appeal was irre- 
sistible. 

" But what can I do ? " she asked reluctantly. 

" Lend me the money. You can. If you don't, this will 
be the end for me." 

" And a good thing, too ! " thought Sophia's hard 
sense. 

" How much is it ? " Sophia glumly asked. 

" It isn't a thousand francs ! " said Madame Foucault with 
eagerness. " All my beautiful furniture will go for less than 
a thousand francs 1 Save me 1 " 

She was nauseating Sophia. 

" Please rise," said Sophia, her hands fidgeting unde- 
cidedly. 

".I shall repay you, surely ! " Madame Foucault assever- 
ated. " I swear ! " 



374 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" Does she take me for a fool ? " thought Sophia, " with 
her oaths ! " 

" No ! " said Sophia. " I won't lend you the money. 
But I tell you what I will do. I will buy the furniture at 
that price ; and I will promise to re-sell it to you as soon as 
you can pay me. Like that, you can be tranquil. But I have 
very little money. I must have a guarantee. The furniture 
must be mine till you pay me." 

" You are an angel of charity ! " cried Madame Foucault, 
embracing Sophia's skirts. " I will do whatever you wish. 
Ah ! You Englishwomen are astonishing." 

Sophia was not an angel of charity. What ghe had 
promised to do involved sacrifice and anxiety without the 
prospect of reward. But it was not charity. It was part of 
the price Sophia paid for the exercise of her logical faculty ; 
she paid it unwillingly. " I did what I could for you ! " 
Sophia would have died sooner than remind any one of a 
benefit conferred, and Madame Foucault had committed 
precisely that enormity. The appeal was inexcusable to a 
fine mind ; but it was effective. 

The men were behind the door, listening. Sophia paid out 
of her stock of notes. Needless to say, the total was more 
and not less than a thousand francs. Madame Foucault 
grew rapidly confidential with the man. Without consulting 
Sophia, she asked the bailiff to draw up a receipt transferring 
the ownership of all the furniture to Sophia ; and the bailiff, 
struck into obligingness by glimpses of Sophia's beauty, con- 
sented to do so. There was much conferring upon forms 
of words, and flourishing of pens between thick vile fingers, 
and scattering of ink. 

Before the men left Madame Foucault uncorked a bottle 
of wine for them, and helped them to drink it. Throughout 
the evening she was insupportably deferential to Sophia, 
who was driven to bed. Madame Foucault contentedly went 
up to the sixth floor to occupy the servant's bedroom. She 
was glad to get so far away from the sulphur, of which a few 
faint fumes had penetrated into the corridor. 

The next morning, after a stifling night of bad dreams, 
Sophia was too ill to gef up. She looked round at the fur- 
niture in the little room, and she imagined the furniture in 
the other rooms, and dismally thought : " All this furniture 
is mine. She will never pay me ! I am saddled with it." 

It was cheaply bought, but she probably could not sell it 
for even what she had paid. Still, the sense of ownership 
was reassuring. 

The charwoman brought her coffee, and Chirac's news- 



FEVER. 375 

paper ; from which she learnt that the news of the victory 
which had sent the city mad on the previous day was utterly 
false. Tears came into her eyes as she gazed absently at all 
the curtained windows of the courtyard. She had youth and 
loveliness ; according to the rules she ought to have been 
irresponsible, gay, and indulgently watched over by the 
wisdom of admiring age. But she felt towards the French 
nation as a mother might feel towards adorable, wilful 
children suffering through their own charming foolishness. 
She saw France personified in Chirac. How easily, despite 
his special knowledge, he had yielded to the fever ! Her 
heart bled for France and Chirac on that morning of reaction 
and of truth. She could not bear to recall the scene in the 
Place de la Concorde. Madame Foucault had not descended. 



CHAPTER VI. 

THE SIEGE. 
I. 

MADAME FOUCAULT came into Sophia's room one afternoon 
with a peculiar guilty expression on her large face, and she 
held her peignoir close to her exuberant body in folds con- 
sciously majestic, as though endeavouring to prove to Sophia 
by her carriage that despite her shifting eyes she was the 
most righteous and sincere woman that ever lived. 

It was Saturday, the third of September, a beautiful day. 
Sophia, suffering from an unimportant relapse, had remained 
in a state of inactivity, and had scarcely gone out at all. She 
loathed the flat, but lacked the energy to leave it every 
day. There was no sufficiently definite object in leaving 
it. She could not go out and look for health as she might 
have looked for flowers. So she remained in the flat, and 
stared at the courtyard and the continual mystery of lives 
hidden behind curtains that occasionally moved. And the 
painted yellow walls of the house, and the papered walls of 
her room pressed upon her and crushed her. For a few days 
Chirac had called daily, animated by the most adorable solici- 
tude. Then he had ceased to call. She had tired of read- 
ing the journals ; they lay unopened. The relations between 
Madame Foucault and herself, and her status in the flat of 
which she now legally owned the furniture, these things 
were left unsettled. But the question of her board was 
arranged on the terms that she halved the cost of food and 
service with Madame Foucault ; her expenses wer thus 
reduced to the lowest possible about eighteen francs a week. 
An idea hung in the air like a scientific discovery on the point 
of being made by several independent investigators simul- 
taneously that she and Madame Foucault should co-operate 
in order to let furnished rooms at a remunerative profit. 



THE SIEGE. 377 

Sophia felt the nearness of the idea and she wanted to be 
shocked at the notion of any avowed association between 
herself and Madame Foucault ; but she could not be. 

" Here are a lady and a gentleman who want a bedroom," 
began Madame Foucault, " a nice large bedroom, furnished." 

" Oh ! " said Sophia ; " who are they ? " 

" They will pay a hundred and thirty francs a month, in 
advance, for the middle bedroom." 

" You've shown it to them already ? " said Sophia. And 
her tone implied that somehow she was conscious of a right to 
overlook the affairs of Madame Foucault. 

" No," said the other. " I said to myself that first I 
would ask you for a counsel." 

" Then will they pay all that for a room they haven't 
seen ? " 

"The fact is," said Madame Foucault, sheepishly, "the 
lady has seen the room before. I know her a little. It is a 
former tenant. She lived here some weeks." 

" In that room ? " 

" Oh no ! She was poor enough then." 

" Where are they ? ' 

" In the corridor. She is very well, the lady. Naturally 
one must live, she like all the world ; but she is veritably 
well. Quite respectable ! One would never say . . . Then 
there would be the meals. We could demand one franc for 
the cafe au lait, two and a half francs for the lunch, and 
three francs for the dinner. Without counting other things. 
That would mean over five hundred francs a month, at least. 
And what would they cost us ? Almost nothing ! By what 
appears, he is a plutocrat ... I could thus quickly repay 
you." 

" Is it a married couple ? " 

" Ah ! You know, one cannot demand the marriage 
certificate." Madame Foucault indicated by a gesture that 
the Rue Breda was not the paradise of saints. 

" When she came before, this lady, was it with the same 
man ? " Sophia asked coldly. 

" Ah, my faith, no ! " exclaimed Madame Foucault, brid- 
ling. " It was a bad sort, the other, a . . . ! Ah, no." 

" Why do you ask my advice ? " Sophia abruptly ques- 
tioned, in a hard, inimical voice. "Is it that it concerns 
me ? " 

Tears came at once into the eyes of Madame Foucault. 
" Do not be unkind," she implored. 

"I'm not unkind," said Sophia, in the same tone. 

" Shall you leave me if I accept this offer ? " 



378 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

There was a pause. 

" Yes," said Sophia, bluntly. She tried to be large- 
hearted, large-minded, and sympathetic ; but there was no 
sign of these qualities in her speech. 

" And if you take with you the furniture which is 
yours. . . . 1 " 

Sophia kept silence. 

" How am I to live, I demand of you ? " Madame Fou- 
cault asked weakly. 

" By being respectable and dealing with respectable 
people ! " said Sophia, uncompromisingly, in tones of steel. 

" I am unhappy ! " murmured the elder woman. " How- 
ever, you are more strong than I ! " 

She brusquely dabbed her eyes, gave a little sob, and ran 
out of the room. Sophia listened at the door, and heard her 
dismiss the would-be tenants of the best bedroom. She 
wondered that she should possess such moral ascendancy 
over the woman, she so young and ingenuous ! For, of 
course, she had not meant to remove the furniture. She 
could hear Madame Foucault sobbing quietly in one of the 
other rooms ; and her lips curled. 

Before evening a truly astonishing event happened. 
Perceiving that Madame Foucault showed no signs of bestir- 
ring herself, Sophia, with good nature in her heart but not 
on her tongue, went to her, and said : 

" Shall I occupy myself with the dinner ? " 

Madame Foucault sobbed more loudly. 

" That would be very amiable on your part," Madame 
Foucault managed at last to reply, not very articulately. 

Sophia put a hat on and went to the grocer's. The 
grocer, who kept a busy establishment at the corner of the 
Kue Clausel, was a middle-aged and wealthy man. He 
had sent his young wife and two children to Normandy 
until victory over the Prussians should be more assured, 
and he asked Sophia whether it was true that there was 
a good bedroom to let in the fiat where she lived. His 
servant was ill of small-pox ; he was attacked by anxieties 
and fears on all sides ; he would not enter his own flat on 
account of possible infection ; he liked Sophia, and Madame 
Foucault had been a customer of his, with intervals, for 
twenty years. Within an hour he had arranged to rent 
the middle bedroom at eighty francs a month, and to take 
his meals there. The terms were modest, but the respecta- 
bility was prodigious. All the glory of this tenancy fell 
upon Sophia. 

Madame Foucault was deeply impressed. Characteris- 



THE SIEGE. 379 

tically she began at once to construct a theory that Sophia 
had only to walk out of the house in order to discover ideal 
tenants for the rooms. Also she regarded the advent of 
the grocer as a reward from Providence for her self-denial 
in refusing the profits of sinfulness. Sophia felt personally 
responsible to the grocer for his comfort, and so she her- 
self undertook the preparation of the room. Madame Fou- 
cault was amazed at the thoroughness of her housewifery, 
and at the ingenuity of her ideas for the arrangement of 
furniture. She sat and watched with admiration syco- 
phantic but real. 

That night, when Sophia was in bed, Madame Foucault 
came into the room, and dropped down by the side of the 
bed, and begged Sophia to be her moral support for ever. 
She confessed herself generally. She explained how she 
had always hated the negation of respectability ; how re- 
spectability was the one thing that she had all her life pas- 
sionately desired. She said that if Sophia would be her 
partner in the letting of furnished rooms to respectable 
persons, she would obey her in everything. She gave Sophia 
a list of all the traits in Sophia's character which she admired. 
She asked Sophia to influence her, to stand by her. She 
insisted that she would sleep on the sixth floor in the ser- 
vant's tiny room ; and she had a vision of three bedrooms 
let to successful tradesmen. She was in an ecstasy of re- 
pentance and good intentions. 

Sophia consented to the business proposition ; for she had 
nothing else whatever in prospect, and she shared Madame 
Foucault's rosy view about the remunerativeness of the bed- 
rooms. With three tenants who took meals the two women 
would be able to feed themselves for nothing and still make 
a profit on the food ; and the rents would be clear gain. 

And she felt very sorry for the ageing, feckless Madame 
Foucault, whose sincerity was obvious. The association 
between them would be strange ; it would have been im- 
possible to explain it to St. Luke's Square. . . . And yet, 
if there was anything at all in the virtue of Christian charity, 
what could properly be urged against the association ? 

" Ah ! " murmured Madame Foucault, kissing Sophia's 
hands, " it is to-day, then, that I recommence my life. You 
will see you will see ! You have saved me ! " 

It was a strange sight, the time-worn, disfigured courtesan, 
half prostrate before the beautiful young creature proud 
and unassailable in the instinctive force of her own char- 
acter. It was almost a didactic tableau, fraught with les- 
sons for the vicious. Sophia was happier than she had been 



3 8o THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

for years. She had a purpose in existence ; she had a fluid 
soul to mould to her will according to her wisdom ; and 
there was a large compassion to her credit. Public opinion 
could not intimidate her, for in her case there was no public 
opinion ; she knew nobody ; nobody had the right to ques- 
tion her doings. 

The next day, Sunday, they both worked hard at the bed- 
rooms from early morning. The grocer was installed in his 
chamber, and the two other rooms were cleansed as they had 
never been cleansed. At four o'clock, the weather being more 
magnificent than ever, Madame Foucault said : 

" If we took a promenade on the boulevard ? " 

Sophia reflected. They were partners. " Very well," she 
agreed. 

The boulevard was crammed with gay, laughing crowds. 
All the cafes were full. None, who did not know, could 
have guessed that the news of Sedan was scarcely a day old 
in the capital. Delirious joy reigned in the glittering sun- 
shine. As the two women strolled along, content with their 
industry and their resolves, they came to a National Guard, 
who, perched on a ladder, was chipping away the " N " 
from the official sign of a court-tradesman. He was ex- 
changing jokes with a circle of open mouths. It was in 
this way that Madame Foucault and Sophia learnt of the 
establishment of a republic. 

" Vive la r6publique ! " cried Madame Foucault, incon- 
tinently, and then apologized to Sophia for the lapse. 

They listened a long while to a man who was telling strange 
histories of the Empress. 

Suddenly Sophia noticed that Madame Foucault was no 
longer at her eblow. She glanced about, and saw her in 
earnest conversation with a young man whose face seemed 
familiar. She remembered it was the young man with whom 
Madame Foucault had quarrelled on the night when Sophia 
found her prone in the corridor ; the last remaining wor- 
shipper of the courtesan. 

The woman's face was quite changed by her agitation. 
Sophia drew away, offended. She watched the pair from a 
distance for a few moments, and then, furious in disillusion, 
she escaped from the fever of the boulevards and walked 
quietly home. Madame Foucault did not return. Ap- 
parently Madame Foucault was doomed to be the toy of 
chance. Two days later Sophia received a scrawled letter 
from her, with the information that her lover had required 
that she should accompany him to Brussels, as Paris would 
soon be getting dangerous. " He adores me always. He 



THE SIEGE. 381 

is the most delicious boy. As I have always said, this is 
the grand passion of my life. I am happy. He would 
not permit me to come to you. He has spent two thousand 
francs on clothes for me, since naturally I had nothing." 
And so on. No word of apology. Sophia, in reading the 
letter, allowed for a certain exaggeration and twisting of 
the truth. 

" Young fool ! Fool ! " she burst out angrily. She did 
not mean herself ; she meant the fatuous adorer of that 
dilapidated, horrible woman. She never saw her again. 
Doubtless Madame Foucault fulfilled her own prediction as 
to her ultimate destiny, but in Brussels. 



II. 

Sophia still possessed about a hundred pounds, and had 
she chosen to leave Paris and France, there was nothing to 
prevent her from doing so. Perhaps if she had chanced to 
visit the Gare St. Lazare or the Gare du Nord, the sight 
of tens of thousands of people flying seawards might have 
stirred in her the desire to flee also from the vague coming 
danger. But she did not visit those termini ; she was too 
busy looking after M. Niepce, her grocer. Moreover, she 
would not quit her furniture, which seemed to her to be a 
sort of rock. With a flat full of furniture she considered 
that she ought to be able to devise a livelihood ; the enter- 
prise of becoming independent was already indeed begun. 
She ardently wished to be independent, to utilize in her own 
behalf the gifts of organization, foresight, commonsense and 
tenacity which she knew she possessed and which had lain 
idle. And she hated the idea of flight. 

Chirac returned as unexpectedly as he had gone ; an ex- 
pedition for his paper had occupied him. With his lips 
he urged her to go, but his eyes spoke differently. He had, 
one afternoon, a mood of candid despair, such as he would 
have dared to show only to one in whom he felt great con- 
fidence. " They will come to Paris," he said ; " nothing 
can stop them. And . . . then . . . 1 " He gave a cynical 
laugh. But when he urged her to go she said : 

" And what about my furniture ? And I've promised M. 
Niepce to look after him." 

Then Chirac informed her that he was without a lodging, 
and that he would like to rent one of her rooms. She agreed. 

Shortly afterwards he introduced a middle-aged acquaint- 



382 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ance named Carlier, the secretary-general of his newspaper, 
who wished to rent a bedroom. Thus by good fortune 
Sophia let all her rooms immediately, and was sure of over 
two hundred francs a month, apart from the profit on meals 
supplied. On this latter occasion Chirac (and his com- 
panion too) was quite optimistic, reiterating an absolute 
certitude that Paris could never be invested. Briefly, Sophia 
did not believe him. She believed the candidly despair- 
ing Chirac. She had no information, no wide theory, to 
justify her pessimism ; nothing but the inward conviction 
that the race capable of behaving as she had seen it behave 
in the Place de la Concorde, was bound to be defeated. She 
loved the French race ; but all the practical Teutonic saga- 
city hi her wanted to take care of it in its difficulties, and 
was rather angry with it for being so unfitted to take care 
of itself. 

She let the men talk, and with careless disdain of their 
discussions and their certainties she went about her business 
of preparation. At this period, overworked and harassed by 
novel responsibilities and risks, she was happier, for days 
together, than she had ever been, simply because she had 
a purpose in life and was depending upon herself. Her 
ignorance of the military and political situation was com- 
plete ; the situation did not interest her. What interested 
her was that she had three men to feed wholly or partially, 
and that the price of eatables was rising. She bought eat- 
ables. She bought fifty pecks of potatoes at a franc a peck, 
and another fifty pecks at a franc and a quarter double 
the normal price ; ten hams at two and a half francs a pound ; 
a large quantity of tinned vegetables and fruits, a sack of 
flour, rice, biscuits, coffee, Lyons sausage, dried prunes, 
dried figs, and much wood and charcoal. But the chief 
of her purchases was cheese, of which her mother used to 
say that bread and cheese and water made a complete diet. 
Many of these articles she obtained from her grocer. All 
of them, except the flour and the biscuits, she stored in the 
cellar belonging to the flat ; after several days' delay, for 
the Parisian workmen were too elated by the advent of a 
republic to stoop to labour, she caused a new lock to be 
fixed on the cellar-door. Her activities were the sensation 
of the house. Everybody admired, but no one imitated. 

One morning, on going to do her marketing, she found a 
notice across the shuttered windows of her creamery in the 
Rue Notre Dame de Lorette : " Closed for want of milk." 
The siege had begun. It was in the closing of the creamery 
that the siege was figured for her; in this, and in eggs at 



THE SIEGE. 383 

five sous a piece. She went elsewhere for her milk and 
paid a franc a litre for it. That evening she told her lodgers 
that the price of meals would be doubled, and that if any 
gentleman thought that he could get equally good meals 
elsewhere, he was at liberty to get them elsewhere. Her 
position was strengthened by the appearance of another can- 
didate for a room, a friend of Niepce. She at once offered 
him her own room, at a hundred and fifty francs a month. 

" You see," she said, " there is a piano in it." 

" But I don't play the piano," the man protested, shocked 
at the price. 

" That is not my fault," she said. 

He agreed to pay the price demanded for the room because 
of the opportunity of getting good meals much cheaper 
than in the restaurants. Like M. Niepce, he was a " siege- 
widower," his wife having been put under shelter in Brittany. 
Sophia took to the servant's bedroom on the sixth floor. It 
measured nine feet by seven, and had no window save a 
skylight ; but Sophia was in a fair way to realize a profit 
of at least four pounds a week, after paying for everything. 

On the night when she installed herself in that chamber, 
amid a world of domestics and poor people, she worked 
very late, and the rays of her candles shot up intermittently 
through the skylight into a black heaven ; at intervals she 
flitted up and down the stairs with a candle. Unknown to 
her a crowd gradually formed opposite the house in the 
street, and at about one o'clock in the morning a file of 
soldiers woke the concierge and invaded the courtyard, and 
every window was suddenly populated with heads. Sophia 
was called upon to prove that she was not a spy signalling 
to the Prussians. Three quarters of an hour passed before 
her innocence was established and the staircases cleared of 
uniforms and dishevelled curiosity. The childish, impos- 
sible unreason of the suspicion against her completed in 
Sophia's mind the ruin of the reputation of the French people 
as a sensible race. She was extremely caustic the next day 
to her boarders. Except for this episode, the frequency of 
military uniforms in the streets, the price of food, and the 
fact that at least one house in four was flying either the 
ambulance flag or the flag of a foreign embassy (in an absurd 
hope of immunity from the impending bombardment) the 
siege did not exist for Sophia. The men often talked about 
their guard -duty, and disappeared for a day or two to the 
ramparts, but she was too busy to listen to them. She 
thought of nothing but her enterprise, which absorbed all 
her powers. She arose at six a.m., in the dark, and by 



384 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

seven-thirty M. Niepce and his friend had been served with 
breakfast, and much general work was already done. At 
eight o'clock she went out to market. When asked why 
she continued to buy at a high price, articles of which she 
had a store, she would reply : "I am keeping all that till 
things are much dearer." This was regarded as astounding 
astuteness. 

On the fifteenth of October she paid the quarter's rent of 
the flat, four hundred francs, and was accepted as tenant. 
Her ears were soon quite accustomed to the sound of cannon, 
and she felt that she had always been a citizeness of Paris, 
and that Paris had always been besieged. She did not 
speculate about the end of the siege ; she lived from day to 
day. Occasionally she had a qualm of fear, when the firing 
grew momentarily louder, or when she heard that battles 
had been fought in such and such a suburb. But then 
she said it was absurd to be afraid when you were with a 
couple of million people, all in the same plight as your- 
self. She grew reconciled to everything. She even began 
to like her tiny bedroom, partly because it was so easy to 
keep warm (the question of artificial heat was growing acute 
in Paris), and partly because it ensured her privacy. Down 
in the flat, whatever was done or said in one room could be 
more or less heard in all the others, owing to the prevalence 
of doors. 

Her existence, hi the first half of November, had become 
regular with a monotony almost absolute. Only the num- 
ber of meals served to her boarders varied slightly from day 
to day. All these repasts, save now and then one in the 
evening, were carried into the bedrooms by the charwoman. 
Sophia did not allow herself to be seen much, except in the 
afternoons. Though Sophia continued to increase her prices, 
and was now selling her stores at an immense profit, she 
never approached the prices current outside. She was very 
indignant against the exploitation of Paris by its shop- 
keepers, who had vast supplies of provender, and were 
hoarding for the rise. But the force of their example was 
too great for her to ignore it entirely ; she contented her- 
self with about half their gains. Only to M. Niepce did 
she charge more than to the others, because he was a 
shopkeeper. The four men appreciated their paradise. In 
them developed that agreeable feeling of security which 
solitary males find only under the roof of a landlady who 
is at once prompt, honest, and a votary of cleanliness. 
Sophia hung a slate near the front door, and on this slate 
they wrote their requests for meals, for being called, for 



THE SIEGE. 385 

laundry-work, etc. Sophia never made a mistake, and 
never forgot. The perfection of the domestic machine 
amazed these men, who had been accustomed to something 
quite different, and who every day heard harrowing stories 
of discomfort and swindling from their acquaintances. 
They even admired Sophia for making them pay, if not too 
high, still high. They thought it wonderful that she should 
tell them the price of all things in advance, and even show 
them how to avoid expense, particularly in the matter of 
warmth. She arranged rugs for each of them, so that they 
could sit comfortably in their rooms with nothing but a 
small charcoal heater for the hands. Quite naturally they 
came to regard her as the paragon and miracle of women. 
They endowed her with every fine quality. According to 
them there had never been such a woman in the history of 
mankind ; there could not have been ! She became legend- 
ary among their friends : a young and elegant creature, 
surpassingly beautiful, proud, queenly, unapproachable, 
scarcely visible, a marvellous manager, a fine cook and 
artificer of strange English dishes, utterly reliable, utterly 
exact and with habits of order . . . ! They adored the 
slight English accent which gave a touch of the exotic to 
her very correct and freely idiomatic French. In short, 
Sophia was perfect for them, an impossible woman. What- 
ever she did was right. 

And she went up to her room every night with limbs 
exhausted, but with head clear enough to balance her ac- 
counts and go through her money. She did this in bed 
with thick gloves on. If often she did not sleep well, it 
was not because of the distant guns, but because of her pre- 
occupation with the subject of finance. She was making 
money, and she wanted to make more. She was always 
inventing ways of economy. She was so anxious to achieve 
independence that money was always in her mind. She 
began to love gold, to love hoarding it, and to hate paying 
it away. 

One morning her charwoman, who by good fortune was 
nearly as precise as Sophia herself, failed to appear. When 
the moment came for serving M. Niepce's breakfast, Sophia 
hesitated, and then decided to look after the old man per- 
sonally. She knocked at his door, and went boldly in with 
the tray and candle. He started at seeing her ; she was 
wearing a blue apron, as the charwoman did, but there 
could be no mistaking her for the charwoman. Niepce looked 
older in bed than when dressed. He had a rather ridiculous, 
undignified appearance, common among old men before 

13 



386 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

their morning toilette is achieved ; and a nightcap did not 
improve it. His rotund paunch lifted the bed-clothes, upon 
which, for the sake of extra warmth, he had spread un- 
majestic garments. Sophia smiled to herself; but the con- 
tempt implied by that secret smile was softened by the 
thought : " Poor old man ! " She told him briefly that she 
supposed the charwoman to be ill. He coughed and moved 
nervously. His benevolent and simple face beamed on her 
paternally as she fixed the tray by the bed. 

" I really must open the window for one little second," 
she said, and did so. The chill air of the street came 
through the closed shutters, and the old man made a noise 
as of shivering. She pushed back the shutters, and closed 
the window, and then did the same with the other two win- 
dows. It was almost day in the room. 

" You will no longer need the candle," she said, and came 
back to the bedside to extinguish it. 

The benign and fatherly old man put his arm round her 
waist. Fresh from the tonic of pure air, and with the 
notion of his ridiculousness still in her mind, she was stag- 
gered for an instant by this gesture. She had never given 
a thought to the temperament of the old grocer, the hus- 
band of a young wife. She could not always imaginatively 
keep in mind the effect of her own radiance, especially 
under such circumstances. But after an instant her pre- 
cocious cynicism, which had slept, sprang up. " Naturally ! 
I might have expected it ! " she thought with blasting 
scorn. 

" Take away your hand ! " she said bitterly to the amiable 
old fool. She did not stir. 

He obeyed, sheepishly. 

" Do you wish to remain with me ? " she asked, and as he 
did not immediately answer, she said in a most commanding 
tone : " Answer, then ! " 

" Yes," he said feebly. 

" Well, behave properly." 

She went towards the door. 

" I wished only " he stammered. 

" I do not wish to know what you wished," she said. 

Afterwards she wondered how much of the incident had 
been overheard. The other breakfasts she left outside the 
respective doors ; and in future Niepce's also. 

The charwoman never came again. She had caught small- 
pox and she died of it, thus losing a good situation. Strange 
to say, Sophia did not replace her ; the temptation to save 
her wages and food was too strong. She could not, how- 



THE SIEGE. 387 

ever, stand waiting for hours at the door of the official 
baker and the official butcher, one of a long line of frozen 
women, for the daily rations of bread and tri-weekly rations 
of meat. She employed the concierge's boy, at two sous 
an hour, to do this. Sometimes he would come in with his 
hands so blue and cold that he could scarcely hold the pre- 
cious cards which gave the right to the rations and which 
cost Chirac an hour or two of waiting at the mayoral offices 
each week. Sophia might have fed her flock without re- 
sorting to the official rations, but she would not sacrifice 
the economy which they represented. She demanded thick 
clothes for the concierge's boy, and received boots from 
Chirac, gloves from Carlier, and a great overcoat from Niepce. 
The weather increased in severity, and provisions in price. 
One day she sold to the wife of a chemist who lived on the 
first floor, for a hundred and ten francs, a ham for which 
she had paid less than thirty francs. She was conscious 
of a thrill of joy in receiving a beautiful banknote and a 
gold coin in exchange for a mere ham. By this time her 
total cash resources had grown to nearly five thousand 
francs. It was astounding. And the reserves in the cellar 
were still considerable, and the sack of flour that encumbered 
the kitchen was still more than half full. The death of 
the faithful charwoman, when she heard of it, produced but 
little effect on Sophia, who was so overworked and so com- 
pletely absorbed in her own affairs that she had no nervous 
energy to spare for sentimental regrets. The charwoman, 
by whose side she had regularly passed many hours in the 
kitchen, so that she knew every crease in her face and fold 
of her dress, vanished out of Sophia's memory. 

Sophia cleaned and arranged two of the bedrooms in the 
morning, and two in the afternoon. She had stayed in 
hotels where fifteen bedrooms were in charge of a single 
chambermaid, and she thought it would be hard if she could 
not manage four in the intervals of cooking and other work. 
This she said to herself by way of excuse for not engaging 
another charwoman. One afternoon she was rubbing the 
brass knobs of the numerous doors in M. Niepce's room, 
when the grocer unexpectedly came in. 

She glanced at him sharply. There was a self-conscious 
look in his eye. He had entered the flat noiselessly. She 
remembered having told him, in response to a question, that 
she now did his room in the afternoon. Why should he have 
left his shop ? He hung up his hat behind the door, with 
the meticulous care of an old man. Then he took off his 
overcoat and rubbed his hands. 



3 88 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" You do well to wear gloves, madame," he said. " It is 
dog's weather." 

" I do not wear them for the cold," she replied. " I wear 
them so as not to spoil my hands." 

" Ah ! truly ! Very well ! Very well ! May I demand 
some wood ? Where shall I find it ? I do not wish to 
derange you." 

She refused his help, and brought wood from the kitchen, 
counting the logs audibly before him. 

" Shall I light the fire now ? " she asked. 

" I will light it," he said. 

" Give me a match, please." 

As she was arranging the wood and paper, he said : " Ma- 
dame, will you listen to me ? " 

" What is it ? " 

" Do not be angry," he said. " Have I not proved that 
I am capable of respecting you ? I continue in that respect. 
It is with all that respect that I say to you that I love you, 
madame. . . . No, remain calm, I implore you ! " The fact 
was that Sophia showed no sign of not remaining calm. " It 
is true that I have a wife. But what do you wish . . .? 
She is far away. I love you madly," he proceeded with 
dignified respect. " I know I am old ; but I am rich. I 
understand your character. You are a lady, you are de- 
cided, direct, sincere, and a woman of business. I have the 
greatest respect for you. One can talk to you as one could 
not to another woman. You prefer directness and sin- 
cerity. Madame, I will give you two thousand francs a month, 
and all you require from my shop, if you will be amiable to 
me. I am very solitary, I need the society of a charming 
creature who would be sympathetic. Two thousand francs 
a month. It is money." 

He wiped his shiny head with his hand. 

Sophia was bending over the fire. She turned her head 
towards him. 

" Is that all ? " she said quietly. 

" You could count on my discretion," he said in a low 
voice. " I appreciate your scruples. I would come, very 
late, to your room on the sixth. One could arrange. . . . 
You see, I am direct, like you/' 

She had an impulse to order him tempestuously out of the 
flat ; but it was not a genuine impulse. He was an old fool. 
Why not treat him as such ? To take him seriously would be 
absurd. Moreover, he was a very remunerative boarder. 

" Do not be stupid," she said with cruel tranquillity. 
" Do not be an old fool." 



THE SIEGE. 389 

And the benign but fatuous middle-aged lecher saw the 
enchanting vision of Sophia, with her natty apron and her 
amusing gloves, sweep and fade from the room. He left the 
house, and the expensive fire warmed an empty room. 

Sophia was angry with him. He had evidently planned 
the proposal. If capable of respect, he was evidently also 
capable of chicane. But she supposed these Frenchmen were 
all alike : disgusting ; and decided that it was useless to 
worry over a universal fact. They had simply no shame, 
and she had been very prudent to establish herself far away 
on the sixth floor. She hoped that none of the other boarders 
bad overheard Niepce's outrageous insolence. She was not 
sure if Chirac was not writing in his room. 

That night there was no sound of cannon in the distance, 
and Sophia for some time was unable to sleep. She woke up 
with a start, after a doze, and struck a match to look at her 
watch. It had stopped. She had forgotten to wind it up, 
which omission indicated that the grocer had perturbed her 
more than she thought. She could not be sure how long 
she had slept. The hour might be two o'clock or it might 
be six o'clock. Impossible for her to rest I She got up and 
dressed (in case it should be as late as she feared) and crept 
down the interminable creaking stairs with the candle. As 
she descended, the conviction that it was the middle of the 
night grew upon her, and she stepped more softly. There 
was no sound save that caused by her footfalls. With her 
latchkey she cautiously opened the front door of the flat 
and entered. She could then hear the noisy ticking of the 
small, cheap clock in the kitchen. At the same moment 
another door creaked, and Chirac, with hair all tousled, but 
fully dressed, appeared in the corridor. 

" So you have decided to sell yourself to him ! " Chirac 
whispered. 

She drew away instinctively, and she could feel herself 
blushing. She was at a loss. She saw that Chirac was in a 
furious rage, tremendously moved. He crept towards her, 
half crouching. She had never seen anything so theatrical 
as his movement, and the twitching of his face. She felt 
that she too ought to be theatrical, that she ought nobly to 
scorn his infamous suggestion, his unwarrantable attack. 
Even supposing that she had decided to sell herself to the old 
pasha, did that concern him ? A dignified silence, an annihi- 
lating glance, were all that he deserved. But she was not 
capable of this heroic behaviour. 

" What time is it ? " she added weakly. 

"Three o'clock," Chirac sneered. 



390 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" I forgot to wind up my watch," she said. " And so I came 
down to see." 

" In effect ! " He spoke sarcastically, as if saying : " I've 
waited for you, and here you are." 

She said to herself that she owed him nothing, but all the 
time she felt that he and she were the only young people in 
that flat, and that she did owe to him the proof that she was 
guiltless of the supreme dishonour of youth. She collected 
her forces and looked at him. 

" You should be ashamed," she said. " You will wake the 
others." 

" And M. Niepce will he need to be wakened ? " 

" M. Niepce is not here." she said. 

Niepce's door was unlatched. She pushed it open, and 
went into the room, which was empty and bore no sign of 
having been used. 

" Come and satisfy yourself ! " she insisted. 

Chirac did so. His face fell. 

She took her watch from her pocket. 

" And now wind my watch, and set it, please." 

She saw that he was in anguish. He could not take the 
watch. Tears came into his eyes. Then he hid his face, 
and dashed away. She heard a sob-impeded murmur that 
sounded like, " Forgive me ! " and the banging of a door. 
And in the stillness she heard the regular snoring of M. Carlier. 
She too cried. Her vision was blurred by a mist, and she 
stumbled into the kitchen and seized the clock, and carried 
it with her upstairs, and shivered in the intense cold of the 
night. She wept gently for a very long time. " What a 
shame ! What a shame ! " she said to herself. Yet she did 
not quite blame Chirac. The frost drove her into bed, but 
not to sleep. She continued to cry. At dawn her eyes were 
inflamed with weeping. She was back in the kitchen then. 
Chirac's door was wide open. He had left the flat. On 
the slate was written, " I shall not take meals to-day." 



III. 

Their relations were permanently changed. For several 
days they did not meet at all ; and when at the end of the 
week Chirac was obliged at last to face Sophia in order to pay 
his bill, he had a most grievous expression. It was obvious 
that he considered himself a criminal without any defence to 
offer for his crime. He seemed to make no attempt to hide 



THE SIEGE. 391 

his state of mind. But he said nothing. As for Sophia, she 
preserved a mien of amiable cheerfulness. She exerted her- 
self to convince him by her attitude that she bore no resent- 
ment, that she had determined to forget the incident, that 
in short she was the forgiving angel of his dreams. She did 
not, however, succeed entirely in being quite natural. Con- 
fronted by his misery, it would have been impossible for her 
to be quite natural, and at the same time quite cheerful ! 

A little later the social atmosphere of the flat began to grow 
querulous, disputatious and perverse. The nerves of every- 
body were seriously strained. This applied to the whole city. 
Days of heavy rains followed the sharp frosts, and the town 
was, as it were, sodden with woe. The gates were closed. 
And though nine-tenths of the inhabitants never went out- 
side the gates, the definite and absolute closing of them de- 
moralized all hearts. Gas was no longer supplied. Rats, 
cats, and thorough-bred horses were being eaten and pro- 
nounced " not bad." The siege had ceased to be a novelty. 
Friends did not invite one another to a " siege-dinner " as 
to a picnic. Sophia, fatigued by regular overwork, became 
weary of the situation. She was angry with the Prussians 
for dilatoriness, and with .the French for inaction, and she 
poured out her English spleen on her boarders. The boarders 
told each other in secret that the palronne was growing for- 
midable. Chiefly she bore a grudge against the shopkeepers ; 
and when, upon a rumour of peace, the shop-windows one 
day suddenly blossomed with prodigious quantities of all 
edibles, at highest prices, thus proving that the famine was 
artificially created, Sophia was furious. M. Niepce hi par- 
ticular, though he sold goods to her at a special discount, 
suffered indignities. A few days later that benign and 
fatherly man put himself lamentably in the wrong by 
attempting to introduce into his room a charming young 
creature who knew how to be sympathetic. Sophia, by an 
accident unfortunate for the grocer, caught them in the 
corridor. She was beside herself, but the only outward 
symptoms were a white face and a cold steely voice that 
grated like a rasp on the susceptibilities of the adherents of 
Aphrodite. At this period Sophia had certainly developed 
into a termagant without knowing it ! 

She would often insist now on talking about the siege and 
hearing everything that the men could tell her. Her com- 
ments, made without the least regard for the justifiable deli- 
cacy of their feelings as Frenchmen, sometimes led to heated 
exchanges. When all Montmartre and the Quartier Breda 
was impassioned by the appearance from outside of the Thirty- 



392 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

second battalion, she took the side of the populace, and would 
not credit the solemn statement of the journalists, proved by 
documents, that these maltreated soldiers were not cowards 
in flight. She supported the women who had spit in the faces 
of the Thirty -second. She actually said that if she had met 
them, she would have spit too. Really she was convinced of 
the innocence of the Thirty-second, but something prevented 
her from admitting it. The dispute ended with high words 
between herself and Chirac. 

The next day Chirac came home at an unusual hour, 
knocked at the kitchen door, and said : 

" I must give notice to leave you." 

" Why ? " she demanded curtly. 

She was kneading flour and water for a potato-cake. Her 
potato-cakes were the joy of the household. 

" My paper has stopped ! " said Chirac. 

" Oh ! " she added thoughtfully, but not looking at him. 
" That is no reason why you should leave." 

" Yes," he said. " This place is beyond my means. I 
do not need to tell you that hi ceasing to appear the paper 
has omitted to pay its debts. The house owes me a month's 
salary. So I must leave." 

" No ! " said Sophia. " You can pay me when you have 
money." 

He shook his head. " I have no intention of accepting 
your kindness." 

"' Haven't you got any money ? " she abruptly asked. 
' None," said he. " It is the disaster quite simply ! " 
' Then you will be forced to get into debt somewhere." 
' Yes, but not here ! Not to you ! " 

' Truly, Chirac," she exclaimed, with a cajoling voice, 
" you are not reasonable." 

" Nevertheless it is like that ! " he said with decision. 

Eh, well ! " she turned on him menacingly. " It will 
not be like that ! You understand me ? You will stay. 
And you will pay me when you can. Otherwise we shall 

tuarrel. Do you imagine I shall tolerate your childishness ? 
ust because you were angry last night " 

" It is not that," he protested. " You ought to know it is 
not that." (She did.) " It is solely that I cannot permit 
myself to " 

" Enough ! " she cried peremptorily, stopping him. And 
then in a quieter tone. " And what about Carlier ? Is he 
also in the ditch ? " 

" Ah ! he has money," said Chirac, with sad envy. 

" You also, one day," said she. " You stop in any case 



THE SIEGE. 393 

until after Christmas, or we quarrel. Is it agreed ? " Her 
accent had softened. 

" You are too good ! " he yielded. " I cannot quarrel 
with you. But it pains me to accept " 

" Oh ! " she snapped, dropping into the vulgar idiom, 
" you make me sweat with your stupid pride. Is it that 
that you call friendship ? Go away now. How do you 
wish that I should succeed with this cake while you station 
yourself there to distract me ? " 



IV. 

But in three days Chirac, with amazing luck, fell into 
another situation, and on the Journal des D6bat$. It was the 
Prussians who had found him a place. The celebrated 
Payenneville, second greatest chroniqueur of his time, had 
caught a cold while doing his duty as a national guard, and 
had died of pneumonia. The weather was severe again ; sol- 
diers were being frozen to death at Aubervilliers. Payenne- 
ville's position was taken by another man, whose post was 
offered to Chirac. He told Sdphia of his good fortune with 
unconcealed vanity. 

" You with your smile ! " she said impatiently. " One can 
refuse you nothing 1 " 

She behaved just as though Chirac had disgusted her. She 
humbled him. But with his fellow-lodgers his airs of im- 
portance as a member of the editorial staff of the D6bats were 
comical in their ingenuousness. On the very same day Carlier 
gave notice to leave Sophia. He was comparatively rich ; 
but the habits which had enabled him to arrive at independ- 
ence in the uncertain vocation of a journalist would not allow 
him, while he was earning nothing, to spend a sou more than 
was absolutely necessary. He had decided to join forces 
with a widowed sister, who was accustomed to parsimony 
as parsimony is understood in France, and who was living 
on hoarded potatoes and wine. 

" There ! " said Sophia, " you have lost me a tenant ! " 

And she insisted, half jocularly and half seriously, that 
Carlier was leaving because he could not stand Chirac's 
infantile conceit. The flat was full of acrimonious words. 

On Christmas morning Chirac lay in bed rather late ; the 
newspapers did not appear that day. Paris seemed to be in 
a sort of stupor. About eleven o'clock he came to the kitchen 
door. 

13 



394 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" I must speak with you," he said. His tone impressed 
Sophia. 

" Enter," said she. 

He went in, and closed the door like a conspirator. " We 
must have a little fete," he said. " You and I." 

" Fete ! " she repeated. " What an idea 1 How can I 
leave ? " 

If the idea had not appealed to the secrecies of her heart, 
stirring desires and souvenirs upon which the dust of time 
lay thick, she would not have begun by suggesting diffi- 
culties ; she would have begun by a fiat refusal. 

" That is nothing," he said vigorously. " It is Christmas, 
and I must have a chat with you. We cannot chat here. I 
have not had a true little chat with you since you were ill. 
You will come with me to a restaurant for lunch." 

She laughed. " And the lunch of my lodgers ? " 

" You will serve it a little earlier. We will go out im- 
mediately afterwards, and we will return in time for you to 
prepare dinner. It is quite simple." 

She shook her head. " You are mad," she said crossly. 

" It is necessary that I should offer you something," he 
went on scowling. " You comprehend me ? I wish you to 
lunch with me to-day. I demand it, and you are not going 
to refuse me." 

He was very close to her in the little kitchen, and he spoke 
fiercely, bullyingly, exactly as she had spoken to him when 
insisting that he should live on credit with her for a while. 

" You are very rude," she parried. 

" If I am rude, it is all the same to me," he held out un- 
compromisingly. " You will lunch with me ; I hold to it." 

" How can I be dressed ? " she protested. 

" That does not concern me. Arrange that as you can." 

It was the most curious invitation to a Christmas dinner 
imaginable. 

At a quarter past twelve they issued forth side by side, 
heavily clad, into the mournful streets. The sky, slate- 
coloured, presaged snow. The air was bitterly cold, and yet 
damp. There were no fiacres in the little three-cornered 
place which forms the mouth of the Rue Clausel. In the Rue 
Notre Dame de Lorette, a single empty omnibus was toiling 
up the steep glassy slope, the horses slipping and recovering 
themselves in response to the whip-cracking, which sounded 
in the streets as m an empty vault. Higher up, in the Rue 
Fontaine, one of the few shops that were open displayed this 
announcement : "A large selection of cheeses for New Year's 
gifts." They laughed. 



THE SIEGE. 395 

" Last year at this moment," said Chirac, " I was thinking 
of only one thing the masked ball at the opera. I could 
not sleep after it. This year even the churches are not open. 
And you ? " 

She put her lips together. " Do not ask me," she 
said. 

They proceeded in silence. 

" We are triste, we others," he said. " But the Prussians, 
in their trenches, they cannot be so gay, either ! Their 
families and their Christmas trees must be lacking to them. 
Let us laugh ! " 

The Place Blanche and the Boulevard de Clichy were no 
more lively than the lesser streets and squares. There was 
no life anywhere, scarcely a sound ; not even the sound of 
cannon. Nobody knew anything ; Christmas had put the 
city into a lugubrious trance of hopelessness. Chirac took 
Sophia's arm across the Place Blanche, and a few yards up 
the Rue Lepic he stopped at a small restaurant, famous 
among the initiated, and kriown as " The Little Louis." 
They entered, descending by two steps into a confined and 
sombrely picturesque interior. 

Sophia saw that they were expected. Chirac must have 
paid a previous visit to the restaurant that morning. Several 
disordered tables showed that people had already lunched, 
and left ; but in the corner was a table for two, freshly laid 
in the best manner of such restaurants ; that is to say, with 
a red-and-white checked cloth, and two other red-and-white 
cloths, almost as large as the table-cloth, folded as serviettes 
and arranged flat on two thick plates between solid steel 
cutlery ; a salt-cellar, out of which one ground rock-salt 
by turning a handle, a pepper-castor, two knife-rests, and two 
common tumblers. The phenomena which differentiated 
this table from the ordinary table were a champagne bottle 
and a couple of champagne glasses. Champagne was one of 
the few items which had not increased in price during the 
siege. 

The landlord and his wife were eating in another corner, a 
fat, slatternly pair, whom no privations of a siege could have 
emaciated. The landlord rose. He was dressed as a chef, 
all in white, with the sacred cap ; but a soiled white. Every- 
thing in the place was untidy, unkempt and more or less 
unclean, except just the table upon which champagne was 
waiting. And yet the restaurant was agreeable, reassuring. 
The landlord greeted his customers as honest friends. His 
greasy face was honest, and so was the pale, weary, humorous 
face of his wife. Chirac saluted her. 



396 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" You see," said she, across from the other corner, indi- 
cating a bone on her plate. " This is Diane ! " 

" Ah ! the poor animal ! " exclaimed Chirac, sympatheti- 
cally. 

" What would you ? " said the landlady. " It cost too dear 
to feed her. And she was so mignonne ! One could not 
watch her grow thin ! " 

" I was saying to my wife," the landlord put in, " how she 
would have enjoyed that bone Diane ! " He roared with 
laughter. 

Sophia and the landlady exchanged a curious sad smile at 
this pleasantry, which had been re-discovered by the landlord 
for perhaps the thousandth time during the siege, but which 
he evidently regarded a% quite new and original. 

" Eh, well ! " he continued confidentially to Chirac. " I 
have found for you something very good half a duck." 
And in a still lower tone : " And it will not cost you too dear." 

No attempt to realize more than a modest profit was ever 
made in that restaurant. It possessed a regular clientele 
who knew the value of the little money they had, and who 
knew also how to appreciate sincere and accomplished 
cookery. The landlord was the chef, and he was always 
referred to as the chef, even by his wife. 

" How did you get that ? " Chirac asked. 

" Ah ! " said the landlord, mysteriously. " I have one of 
my friends, who comes from Villeneuve St. Georges refugee, 
you know. In fine ..." A wave of the fat hands, suggest- 
ing that Chirac should not inquire too closely. 

" In effect ! " Chirac commented. " But it is very chic, 
that ! " 

" I believe you that it is chic ! " said the landlady, sturdily. 

" It is charming," Sophia murmured politely. 

" And then a quite little salad ! " said the landlord. 

" But that that is still more striking ! " said Chirac. 

The landlord winked. The fact was that the commerce 
which resulted in fresh green vegetables in the heart of a 
beleaguered town was notorious. 

" And then also a quite little cheese ! " said Sophia, slightly 
imitating the tone of the landlord, as she drew from the 
inwardness of her cloak a small round parcel. It contained 
a Brie cheese, in fairly good condition. It was worth at least 
fifty francs, and it had cost Sophia less than two francs. 
The landlady joined the landlord in inspecting this wondrous 
jewel. Sophia seized a knife and cut a slice for the landlady's 
table. 

" Madame is too good ! " said the landlady, confused by 



THE SIEGE. 397 

this noble generosity, and bearing the gift off to her table as 
a fox-terrier will hurriedly seek solitude with a sumptuous 
morsel. The landlord beamed. Chirac was enchanted. 
In the intimate and unaffected cosiness of that interior the 
vast, stupefied melancholy of the city seemed to be forgotten, 
to have lost its sway. 

Then the landlord brought a hot brick for the feet of 
madame. It was more an acknowledgment of the slice of 
cheese than a necessity, for the restaurant was very warm ; 
the tiny kitchen opened directly into it, and the door between 
the two was open ; there was no ventilation whatever. 

" It is a friend of mine," said the landlord, proudly, in the 
way of gossip, as he served an undescribed soup, " a butcher 
in the Faubourg St. Honore", who has bought the three 
elephants of the Jardin des Plantes for twenty-seven thousand 
francs." 

Eyebrows were lifted. He uncorked the champagne. 

As she drank the first mouthful (she had long lost her 
youthful aversion for wine), Sophia had a glimpse of herself 
in a tilted mirror hung rather high on the opposite wall. It 
was several months since she had attired herself with cere- 
moniousness. The sudden unexpected vision of elegance 
and pallid beauty pleased her. And the instant effect of the 
champagne was to renew in her mind a forgotten conception 
of the goodness of life and of the joys which she had so long 
missed. 



V. 

At half-past two they were alone in the little salon of the 
restaurant, and vaguely in their dreamy and feverish minds 
that were too preoccupied to control with precision their 
warm, relaxed bodies, there floated the illusion that the res- 
taurant belonged to them and that in it they were at home. 
It was no longer a restaurant, but a retreat and shelter from 
hard life. The chef and his wife were dozing in an inner room. 
The champagne was drunk ; the adorable cheese was eaten ; 
and they were sipping Marc de Bourgogne. They sat at right 
angles to one another, close to one another, with brains aswing; 
full of good nature and quick sympathy ; their flesh content 
and yet expectant. In a pause of the conversation (which, 
entirely banal and fragmentary, had seemed to reach the 
acme of agreeableness), Chirac put his hand on the hand of 
Sophia as it rested limp on the littered table. Accidentally 
she caught his eye ; she had not meant to do so. They both 



398 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

became self-conscious. His thin, bearded face had more than 
ever that wistfulness which always softened towards him the 
uncompromisingness of her character. He had the look of a 
child. For her, Gerald had sometimes shown the same look. 
But indeed she was now one of those women for whom all 
men, and especially all men in a tender mood, are invested 
with a certain incurable quality of childishness. She had not 
withdrawn her hand at once, and so she could not withdraw 
it at all. 

He gazed at her with timid audacity. Her eyes were liquid. 

" What are you thinking about ? " she asked. 

" I was asking myself what I should have done if you had 
refused to come." 

" And what should you have done ? " 

" Assuredly something terribly inconvenient," he replied, 
with the large importance of a man who is in the domain of 
pure supposition. He leaned towards her. " My very dear 
friend," he said in a different voice, getting bolder. 

It was infinitely sweet to her, voluptuously sweet, this bask- 
ing in the heat of temptation. It certainly did seem to her, 
then, the one real pleasure in the world. Her body might 
have been saying to his : " See how ready I am ! " Her 
body might have been saying to his : " Look into my mind. 
For you I have no modesty. Look and see all that is there." 
The veil of convention seemed to have been rent. Their 
attitude to each other was almost that of lover and mistress, 
between whom a single glance may be charged with the 
secrets of the past and promises for the future. Morally she 
was his mistress in that moment. 

He released her hand and put his arm round her waist. 

" I love thee," he whispered with great emotion. 

Her face changed and hardened. " You must not do that," 
she said, coldly, unkindly, harshly. She scowled. She 
would not abate one crease in her forehead to the appeal of 
his surprised glance. Yet she did not want to repulse him. 
The instinct which repulsed him was not within her control. 
Just as a shy man will obstinately refuse an invitation which 
he is hungering to accept, so, though not from shyness, she 
was compelled to repulse Chirac. Perhaps if 'her desires 
had not been laid to sleep by excessive physical industry and 
nervous strain, the sequel might have been different. 

Chirac, like most men who have once found a woman weak, 
imagined that he understood women profoundly. He thought 
of women as the Occidental thinks of the Chinese, as a race 
apart, mysterious but capable of being infallibly compre- 
hended by the application of a few leading principles of psy- 



THE SIEGE. 399 

chology. Moreover he was in earnest ; he was hard driven, 
and he was honest. He continued, respectfully obedient in 
withdrawing his arm : 

" Very dear friend," he urged with undaunted confidence, 
" you must know that I love you." 

She shook her head impatiently, all the time wondering 
what it was that prevented her from slipping into his arms. 
She knew that she was treating him badly by this brusque 
change of front ; but she could not help it. Then she began 
to feel sorry for him. 

" We have been very good friends," he said. " I have 
always admired you enormously. I did not think that I 
should dare to love you until that day when I overheard 
that old villain Niepce make his advances. Then, when I 
perceived my acute jealousy, I knew that I was loving you. 
Ever since, I have thought only of you. I swear to you 
that if you will not belong to me, it is already finished for 
me ! Altogether ! Never have I seen a woman like you ! 
So strong, so proud, so kind, and so beautiful ! You are 
astonishing, yes, astonishing ! No other woman could have 
drawn herself out of an impossible situation as you have 
done, since the disappearance of your husband. For me, 
you are a woman unique. I am very sincere. Besides, you 
know it. ... Dear friend ! " 

She shook her head passionately. 

She did not love him. But she was moved. And she 
wanted to love him. She wanted to yield to him, only liking 
him, and to love afterwards. But this obstinate instinct 
held her back. 

" I do not say, now," Chirac went on. " Let me hope." 

The Latin theatricality of his gestures and his tone made 
her sorrowful for him. 

" My poor Chirac ! " she plaintively murmured, and began 
to put on her gloves. 

" I shall hope ! " he persisted. 

She pursed her lips. He seized her violently by the waist. 
She drew her face away from his, firmly. She was not hard, 
not angry now. Disconcerted by her compassion, he loosed 
her. 

" My poor Chirac," she said, " I ought not to have come. 
I must go. It is perfectly useless. Believe me." 

" No, no ! " he whispered fiercely. 

She stood up and the abrupt movement pushed the table 
gratingly across the floor. The throbbing spell of the flesh 
was snapped like a stretched string, and the scene over. 
The landlord, roused from his doze, stumbled in. Chirac 



4 oo THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

had nothing but the bill as a reward for his pains. He was 
baffled. 

They left the restaurant, silently, with a foolish air. 

Dusk was falling on the mournful streets, and the lamp- 
lighters were lighting the miserable oil lamps that had re- 
placed gas. They two, and the lamplighters, and an omni- 
bus were alone in the streets. The gloom was awful ; it was 
desolating. The universal silence seemed to be the silence 
of despair. Steeped in woe, Sophia thought wearily upon 
the hopeless problem of existence. For it seemed to her 
that she and Chirac had created this woe out of nothing, and 
yet it was an incurable woe ! 



CHAPTER VII. 

SUCCESS. 
I. 

SOPHIA lay awake one night in the room lately quitted by 
Carlier. That silent negation of individuality had come and 
gone, and left scarcely any record of himself either in his 
room or in the memories of those who had surrounded his 
existence in the house. Sophia had decided to descend from 
the sixth floor, partly because the temptation of a large room, 
after months in a cubicle, was rather strong ; but more 
because of late she had been obliged to barricade the door 
of the cubicle with a chest of drawers, owing to the pro- 
pensities of a new tenant of the sixth floor. It was useless 
to complain to the concierge ; the sole effective argument 
was the chest of drawers, and even that was frailer than 
Sophia could have wished. Hence, finally, her retreat. 

She heard the front door of the flat open ; then it was 
shut with nervous violence. The resonance of its closing 
would have certainly wakened less accomplished sleepers 
than M. Niepce and his friend, whose snores continued with 
undisturbed regularity. After a pause of shuffling, a match 
was struck, and feet crept across the corridor with the most 
exaggerated precautions against noise. There followed the 
unintentional bang of another door. It was decidedly the 
entry of a man without the slightest natural aptitude for 
furtive irruptions. The clock in M. Niepce's room, which the 
grocer had persuaded to exact time-keeping, chimed three 
with its delicate ting. 

For several days past Chirac had been mysteriously en- 
gaged very late at the bureaux of the D6bdts. No one knew 
the nature of his employment ; he said nothing, except to 
inform Sophia that he would continue to come home about 
three o'clock until further notice. She had insisted on leav- 



4 02 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

ing in his room the materials and apparatus for a light meal. 
Naturally he had protested, with the irrational obstinacy of 
a physically weak man who sticks to it that he can defy the 
laws of nature. But he had protested in vain. 

His general conduct since Christmas Day had frightened 
Sophia, in spite of her tendency to stifle facile alarms at their 
birth. He had eaten scarcely anything at all, and he went 
about with the face of a man dying of a broken heart. The 
change in him was indeed tragic. And instead of improving, 
he grew worse. " Have I done this ? " Sophia asked her- 
self. "It is impossible that I should have done this ! It 
is absurd and ridiculous that he should behave so ! " Her 
thoughts were employed alternately in sympathizing with 
Mm and in despising him, in blaming herself and in blaming 
him. When they spoke, they spoke awkwardly, as though 
one or both of them had committed a shameful crime, which 
could not even be mentioned. The atmosphere of the flat 
was tainted by the horror. And Sophia could not offer him 
a bowl of soup without wondering how he would look at her 
or avoid looking, and without carefully arranging in advance 
her own gestures and speech. Existence was a nightmare 
of self-consciousness. 

" At last they have unmasked their batteries ! " he had 
exclaimed with painful gaiety two days after Christmas, 
when the besiegers had recommenced their cannonade. He 
tried to imitate the strange, general joy of the city, which 
had been roused from apathy by the recurrence of a familiar 
noise ; but the effort was a deplorable failure. And Sophia 
condemned not merely the failure of Chirac's imitation, but 
the thing imitated. " Childish ! " she thought. Yet, de- 
spise the feebleness of Chirac's behaviour as she might, she 
was deeply impressed, genuinely astonished, by the gravity 
and persistence of the symptoms. " He must have been 
getting himself into a state about me for a long time," she 
thought. " Surely he could not have gone mad like this 
all in a day or two ! But I never noticed anything. No ; 
honestly I never noticed anything ! " And just as her be- 
haviour in the restaurant had shaken Chirac's confidence 
in his knowledge of the other sex, so now the singular be- 
haviour of Chirac shook hers. She was taken aback. She 
was frightened, though she pretended not to be frightened. 

She had lived over and over again the scene in the res- 
taurant. She asked herself over and over again if really 
she had not beforehand expected him to make love to her 
in the restaurant. She could not decide exactly when she 
had begun to expect a declaration ; but probably a long 



SUCCESS. 403 

time before the meal was finished. She had foreseen it, 
and might have stopped it. But she had not chosen to stop 
it. Curiosity concerning not merely him, but also her- 
self, had tempted her tacitly to encourage him. She asked 
herself over and over again why she had repulsed him. It 
struck her as curious that she had repulsed him. Was it 
because she was a married woman ? Was it because she 
had moral scruples ? Was it at bottom because she did not 
care for him ? Was it because she could not care for any- 
body ? Was it because his fervid manner of love-making 
offended her English phlegm ? And did she feel pleased 
or displeased by his forbearance in not renewing the assault ? 
She could not answer. She did not know. 

But all the time she knew that she wanted love. Only, 
she conceived a different kind of love : placid, regular, some- 
what stern, somewhat above the plane of whims, moods, 
caresses, and all mere fleshly contacts. Not that she con- 
sidered that she despised these things (though she did) ! 
What she wanted was a love that was too proud, too in- 
dependent, to exhibit frankly either its joy or its pain. 
She hated a display of sentiment. And even in the most 
intimate abandonments she would have made reserves, and 
would have expected reserves, trusting to a lover's powers 
of divination, and to her own ! The foundation of her char- 
acter was a haughty moral independence, and this quality 
was what she most admired in others. 

Chirac's inability to draw from his own pride strength to 
sustain himself against the blow of her refusal gradually 
killed in her the sexual desire which he had aroused, and 
which during a few days flickered up under the stimulus of 
fancy and of regret. Sophia saw with increasing clearness 
that her unreasoning instinct had been right in saying him 
nay. And when, in spite of this, regrets still visited her, she 
would comfort herself in thinking : "I cannot be bothered 
with all that sort of thing. It is not worth while. What 
does it lead to ? Is not life complicated enough without 
that ? No, no ! I will stay as I am. At any rate I know 
what I am in for, as things are ! " And she would reflect 
upon her hopeful financial situation, and the approaching 
prospect of a constantly sufficient income. And a little 
thrill of impatience against the interminable and gigantic 
foolishness of the siege would take her. 

But her self-consciousness in presence of Chirac did not 
abate. 

As she lay in bed she awaited accustomed sounds which 
should have connoted Chirac's definite retirement for the 



4 o 4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

night. Her ear, however, caught no sound whatever from 
his room. Then she imagined that there was a smell of 
burning in the flat. She sat up, and sniffed anxiously, of a 
sudden wideawake and apprehensive. And then she was 
sure that the smell of burning was not in her imagination. 
The bedroom was in perfect darkness. Feverishly she 
searched with her right hand for the matches on the night- 
table, and knocked candle-stick and matches to the floor. 
She seized her dressing-gown, which was spread over the bed, 
and put it on, aiming for the door. Her feet were bare. 
She discovered the door. In the passage she could dis- 
cern nothing at first, and then she made out a thin line of 
light, which indicated the bottom of Chirac's door. The 
smell of burning was strong and unmistakable. She went 
towards the faint light, fumbled for the door-handle with 
her palm, and opened. It did not occur to her to call out 
and ask what was the matter. 

The house was not on fire ; but it might have been. She 
had left on the table at the foot of Chirac's bed a small cook- 
ing-lamp, and a saucepan of bouillon. All that Chirac had to 
do was to ignite the lamp and put the saucepan on it. He had 
ignited the lamp, having previously raised the double wicks, 
and had then dropped into the chair by the table just as 
he was, and sunk forward and gone to sleep with his head 
lying sideways on the table. He had not put the saucepan 
on the lamp ; he had not lowered the wicks, and the flames, 
capped with thick black smoke, were waving slowly to and 
fro within a few inches of his loose hair. His hat had rolled 
along the floor ; he was wearing his great overcoat and one 
woollen glove ; the other glove had lodged on his slanting 
knee. A candle was also burning. 

Sophia hastened forward, as it were surreptitiously, and 
with a forward-reaching movement turned down the wick of 
the lamp ; black specks were falling on the table ; happily 
the saucepan was covered, or the bouillon would have been 
ruined. 

Chirac made a heart-rending spectacle, and Sophia was 
aware of deep and painful emotion in seeing him thus. He 
must have been utterly exhausted and broken by loss of 
sleep. He was a man incapable of regular hours, incapable 
of treating his body with decency. Though going to bed 
at three o'clock, he had continued to rise at his usual hour. 
He looked like one dead ; but more sad, more wistful. Out- 
side in the street a fog reigned, and his thin draggled beard 
was jewelled with the moisture of it. His attitude had the 
unconsidered and violent prostration of an overspent dog. 



SUCCESS. 405 

The beaten animal in him was expressed in every detail of 
that posture-. It showed even in his white, drawn eyelids, 
and in the falling of a finger. All his face was very sad. It 
appealed for mercy as the undefended face of sleep always 
appeals ; it was so helpless, so exposed, so simple. It re- 
called Sophia to a sense of the inner mysteries of life, remind- 
ing her somehow that humanity walks ever on a thin crust 
over terrific abysses. She did not physically shudder ; but 
her soul shuddered. 

She mechanically placed the saucepan on the lamp, and 
the noise awakened Chirac. He groaned. At first he did 
not perceive her. When he saw that some one was looking 
down at him, he did not immediately realize who this one 
was. He rubbed his eyes with his fists, exactly like a baby, 
and sat up, and the chair cracked. 

" What then ? " he demanded. " Oh, madame, I ask 
pardon. What ? " 

" You have nearly destroyed the house," she said. " I 
smelt fire, and I came in. I was just in time. There is no 
danger now. But please be careful." She made as if to 
move towards the door. 

" But what did I do ? " he asked, his eyelids wavering. 

She explained. 

He rose from his chair unsteadily. She told him to sit 
down again, and he obeyed as though in a dream. 

" I can go now," she said. 

" Wait a moment," he murmured. " I ask pardon. I 
should not know how to thank you. You are truly too 
good. Will you wait one moment ? " 

His tone was one of supplication. He gazed at her, a little 
dazzled by the light and by her. The lamp and the candle 
illuminated the lower part of her face, theatrically, and 
showed the texture of her blue flannel peignoir ; the pattern 
of a part of the lace collar was silhouetted in shadow on 
her cheek. Her face was flushed, and her hair hung down 
unconfined. Evidently he could not recover from his ex- 
cusable astonishment at the apparition of such a figure in 
his room. 

" What is it now ? " she said. The faint, quizzical em- 
phasis which she put on the " now " indicated the essential 
of her thought. The sight of him touched her and filled 
her with a womanly sympathy. But that sympathy was 
only the envelope of her disdain of him. She could not 
admire weakness. She could but pity it with a pity in 
which scorn was mingled. Her instinct was to treat him, 
as a child. He had failed in human dignity. And it 



4 o6 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

seemed to her as if she had not previously been quite cer- 
tain whether she could not love him, but that now she was 
quite certain. She was close to him. She saw the wounds 
of a soul that could not hide its wounds, and she resented 
the sight. She was hard. She would not make allow- 
ances. And she revelled in her hardness. Contempt a 
good-natured, kindly, forgiving contempt that was the 
kernel of the sympathy which exteriorly warmed her ! 
Contempt for the lack of self-control which had resulted in 
this swift degeneration of a man into a tortured victim ! 
Contempt for the lack of perspective which magnified a 
mere mushroom passion till it filled the whole field of life ! 
Contempt for this feminine slavery to sentiment ! She felt 
that she might have been able to give herself to Chirac as 
one gives a toy to an infant. But of loving him . . . ! 
No ! She was conscious of an immeasurable superiority to 
him, for she was conscious of the freedom of a strong mind. 
I wanted to tell you," said he, " I am going away." 
Where ? " she asked. 
Out of Paris." 
Out of Paris ? How ? " 

By balloon ! My journal ... I It is an affair of 
great importance. You understand. I offered myself. 
What would you ? " 

" It is dangerous," she observed, waiting to see if he 
would put on the silly air of one who does not understand 
fear. 

" Oh ! " the poor fellow muttered with a fatuous intona- 
tion and snapping of the fingers. " That is all the same 
to me. Yes, it is dangerous. Yes, it is dangerous ! " he 
repeated. " But what would you . . . ? For me . . . ! " 

She wished that she had not mentioned danger. It hurt 
her to watch him incurring her ironic disdain. 

" It will be the night after to-morrow," he said. " In the 
courtyard of the Gare du Nord. I want you to come and 
see me go. I particularly want you to come and see me go. 
I have asked Carlier to escort you." 

He might have been saying, " I am offering myself to 
martyrdom, and you must assist at the spectacle." 

She despised him yet more. 

" Oh ! Be tranquil," he said. " I shall not worry you. 
Never shall I speak to you again of my love. I know you. 
I know it would be useless. But I hope you will come and 
wish me bon voyage." 

" Of course, if you really wish it," she replied with cheer- 
ful coolness. 



SUCCESS. 407 

He seized her hand and kissed it. 

Once it had pleased her when he kissed her hand. But 
now she did not like it. It seemed hysterical and foolish 
to her. She felt her feet to be stone-cold on the floor. 

" I'll leave you now," she said. " Please eat your soup." 

She escaped, hoping he would not espy her feet. 



II. 

The courtyard of the Nord Railway Station was lighted 
by oil-lamps taken from locomotives ; their silvered reflectors 
threw dazzling rays from all sides on the under portion of 
the immense yellow mass of the balloon ; the upper por- 
tion was swaying to and fro with gigantic ungainliness in 
the strong breeze. It was only a small balloon, as balloons 
are measured, but it seemed monstrous as it wavered over 
the human forms that were agitating themselves beneath 
it. The cordage was silhouetted against the yellow taffetas 
as high up as the widest diameter of the balloon, but above 
that all was vague, and even spectators standing at a dis- 
tance could not clearly separate the summit of the great 
sphere from the darkly moving sky. The car, held by ropes 
fastened to stakes, rose now and then a few inches uneasily 
from the ground. The sombre and severe architecture of 
the station-buildings enclosed the balloon on every hand ; 
it had only one way of escape. Over the roofs of that archi- 
tecture, which shut out the sounds of the city, came the 
irregular booming of the bombardment. Shells were falling 
in the southern quarters of Paris, doing perhaps not a great 
deal of damage, but still plunging occasionally into the 
midst of some domestic interior and making a sad mess of 
it. The Parisians were convinced that the shells were aimed 
maliciously at hospitals and museums ; and when a child 
happened to be blown to pieces their unspoken comments 
upon the Prussian savagery were bitter. Their faces said : 
" Those barbarians cannot even spare our children ! " They 
amused themselves by creating a market in shells, paying 
more for a live shell than a dead one, and modifying the tariff 
according to the supply. And as the cattle-market was 
empty, and the vegetable market was empty, and beasts no 
longer pastured on the grass of the parks, and the twenty- 
five million rats of the metropolis were too numerous to 
furnish interest to spectators, and the Bourse was practically 
deserted, the traffic in shells sustained the starving mer- 



408 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

cantile instinct during a very dull period. But the effect 
on the nerves was deleterious. The nerves of everybody 
were like nothing but a raw wound. Violent anger would 
spring up magically out of laughter, and blows out of ca- 
resses. This indirect consequence of the bombardment was 
particularly noticeable in the group of men under the balloon. 
Each behaved as if he were controlling his temper in the most 
difficult circumstances. Constantly they all gazed upwards 
into the sky, though nothing could possibly be distinguished 
there save the blurred edge of a flying cloud. But the boom- 
ing came from that sky ; the shells that were dropping on 
Montrouge came out of that sky ; and the balloon was going 
up into it ; the balloon was ascending into its mysteries, to 
brave its dangers, to sweep over the encircling ring of fire 
and savages. 

Sophia stood apart with Carlier. Carlier had indicated 
a particular spot, under the shelter of the colonnade, where 
he said it was imperative that they should post themselves. 
Having guided Sophia to this spot, and impressed upon her 
that they were not to move, he seemed to consider that the 
activity of his role was finished, and spoke no word. With 
the very high silk hat which he always wore, and a thin 
old-fashioned overcoat whose collar was turned up, he made 
a rather grotesque figure. Fortunately the night was not 
very cold, or he might have passively frozen to death on 
the edge of that feverish group. Sophia soon ignored him. 
She watched the balloon. An aristocratic old man leaned 
against the car, watch in hand ; at intervals he scowled, or 
stamped his foot. An old sailor, tranquilly smoking a pipe, 
walked round and round the balloon, staring at it ; once 
he climbed up into the rigging, and once he jumped into the 
car and angrily threw out of it a bag, which some one had 
placed in it. But for the most part he was calm. Other 
persons of authority hurried about, talking and gesticulating ; 
and a number of workmen waited idly for orders. 

" Where is Chirac ? " suddenly cried the old man with the 
watch. 

Several voices deferentially answered, and a man ran 
away into the gloom on an errand. 

Then Chirac appeared, nervous, self-conscious, restless. 
He was enveloped in a fur coat that Sophia had never seen 
before, and he carried dangling in his hand a cage contain- 
ing six pigeons whose whiteness stirred uneasily within it. 
The sailor took the cage from him, and all the persons of 
authority gathered round to inspect the wonderful birds 
upon which, apparently, momentous affairs depended. 



SUCCESS. 409 

When the group separated, the sailor was to be seen bending 
over the edge of the car to deposit the cage safely. He then 
got into the car, still smoking his pipe, and perched himself 
negligently on the wicker-work. The man with the watch 
was conversing with Chirac ; Chirac nodded his head fre- 
quently in acquiescence, and seemed to be saying all the 
time : " Yes, sir ! Perfectly, sir 1 I understand, sir ! 
Yes, sir ! " 

Suddenly Chirac turned to the car and put a question to 
the sailor, who shook his head. Whereupon Chirac gave a 
gesture of submissive despair to the man with the watch. 
And in an instant the whole throng was in a ferment. 

"The victuals ! " cried the man with the watch. "The 
victuals, name of God ! Must one be indeed an idiot to 
forget the victuals ! Name of God of God ! " 

Sophia smiled at the agitation, and at the inefficient 
management which had never thought of food. For it 
appeared that the food had not merely been forgotten ; it 
was a question which had not even been considered. She 
could not help despising all that crowd of self-important 
and fussy males to whom the idea had not occurred that 
even balloonists must eat. And she wondered whether every- 
thing was done like that. After a delay that seemed very 
long, the problem of victuals was solved, chiefly, as far as 
Sophia could judge, by means of cakes of chocolate and 
bottles of wine. 

" It is enough ! It is enough ! " Chirac shouted passion- 
ately several times to a knot of men who began to argue 
with him. 

Then he gazed round furtively, and with an inflation of 
the chest and a patting of his fur coat he came directly to- 
wards Sophia. Evidently Sophia's position had been pre- 
arranged between him and Carlier. They could forget food, 
but they could think of Sophia's position ! 

All eyes followed him. Those eyes could not, in the gloom, 
distinguish Sophia's beauty, but they could see that she was 
young and slim and elegant, and of foreign carriage. That 
was enough. The very air seemed to vibrate with the in- 
tense curiosity of those eyes. And immediately Chirac grew 
into the hero of some brilliant and romantic adventure. Im- 
mediately he was envied and admired by every man of 
authority present. What was she ? Who was she ? Was it 
a serious passion or simply a caprice ? Had she flung her- 
self at him ? It was undeniable that lovely creatures did 
sometimes fling themselves at lucky mediocrities. Was she 
a married woman ? An artiste ? A girl ? Such queries 



4 io THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

thumped beneath overcoats, while the correctness of a cere- 
monious demeanour was strictly observed. 

Chirac uncovered, and kissed her hand. The wind dis- 
arranged his hair. She saw that his face was very pale 
and anxious beneath the swagger of a sincere desire to be 
brave. 

" Well, it is the moment ! " he said. 

" Did you all forget the food ? " she asked. 

He shrugged his shoulders. " What will you ? One can- 
not think of everything." 

" I hope you will have a safe voyage," she said. 

She had already taken leave of him once, in the house, 
and heard all about the balloon and the sailor-aeronaut and 
the preparations ; and now she had nothing to say, nothing 
whatever. 

He shrugged his shoulders again. " I hope so ! " he 
murmured, but in a tone to convey that he had no such 
hope. 

The wind isn't too strong ? " she suggested. 

He shrugged his shoulders again. " What would you ? " 

" Is it in the direction you want ? " 

" Yes, nearly," he admitted unwillingly. Then rousing 
himself : " Eh, well, madame. You have been extremely 
amiable to come. I held to it very much that you should 
come. It is because of you I quit Paris." 

She resented the speech by a frown. 

" Ah ! " he implored in a whisper. " Do not do that. 
Smile on me. After all, it is not my fault. Remember that 
this may be the last time I see you, the last time I regard 
your eyes." 

She smiled. She was convinced of the genuineness of the 
emotion which expressed itself in all this flamboyant be- 
haviour. And she had to make excuses to herself on behalf 
of Chirac. She smiled to give him pleasure. The hard com- 
monsense in her might sneer, but indubitably she was the 
centre of a romantic episode. The balloon darkly swing- 
ing there ! The men waiting ! The secrecy of the mission ! 
And Chirac, bareheaded in the wind that was to whisk him 
away, telling her in fatalistic accents that her image had 
devastated his life, while envious aspirants watched their 
colloquy ! Yes, it was romantic. And she was beautiful ! 
Her beauty was an active reality that went about the world 
playing tricks in spite of herself. The thoughts that passed 
through her mind were the large, splendid thoughts of ro- 
mance. And it was Chirac who had aroused them ! A real 
drama existed, then, triumphing over the accidental absurd- 



SUCCESS. 411 

ities and pettinesses of the situation. Her final words to 
Chirac were tender and encouraging. 

He hurried back to the balloon, resuming his cap. He 
was received with the respect due to one who conies fresh 
from conquest. He was sacred. 

Sophia rejoined Carlier, who had withdrawn, and began 
to talk to him with a self-conscious garrulity. She spoke 
without reason and scarcely noticed what she was saying. 
Already Chirac was snatched out of her life, as other beings, 
so many of them, had been snatched. She thought of their 
first meetings, and of the sympathy which had always united 
them. He had lost his simplicity now, in the self-created 
crisis of his fate, and had sunk in her esteem. And she was 
determined to like him all the more because he had sunk in 
her esteem. She wondered whether he really had undertaken 
this adventure from sentimental disappointment. She won- 
dered whether, if she had not forgotten to wind her watch 
one night, they would still have been living quietly under 
the same roof in the Rue Br6da. 

The sailor climbed definitely into the car ; he had covered 
himself with a large cloak. Chirac had got one leg over the 
side of the car, and eight men were standing by the rope, 
when a horse's hoofs clattered through the guarded entrance 
to the courtyard, amid an uproar of sudden excitement. 
The shiny chest of the horse was flecked with the classic 
foam. 

" A telegram from the Governor of Paris ! " 

As the orderly, checking his mount, approached the group, 
even the old man with the watch raised his hat. The 
orderly responded, bent down to make an inquiry, which 
Chirac answered, and then, with another exchange of 
salutes, the official telegram was handed over to Chirac, 
and the horse backed away from the crowd. It was quite 
thrilling. Carlier was thrilled. 

" He is never too prompt, the Governor. It is a quality ! " 
said Carlier, with irony. 

Chirac entered the car. And then the old man with the 
watch drew a black bag from the shadow behind him and 
entrusted it to Chirac, who accepted it with a profound 
deference and hid it. The sailor began to issue commands. 
The men at the ropes were bending down now. Suddenly 
the balloon rose about a foot and trembled. The sailor 
continued to shout All the persons of authority gazed 
motionless at the balloon. The moment of suspense was 
eternal. 

" Let go all ! " cried the sailor, standing up, and clinging 



4 i2 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

to the cordage. Chirac was seated in the car, a mass of dark 
fur with a small patch of white in it. The men at the ropes 
were a knot of struggling confused figures. 

One side of the car tilted up, and the sailor was nearly 
pitched out. Three men at the other side had failed to free 
the ropes. 

" Let go, corpses ! " the sailor yelled at them. 

The balloon jumped, as if it were drawn by some terrific 
impulse from the skies. 

" Adieu ! " called Chirac, pulling his cap off and waving it. 
" Adieu ! " 

" Bon voyage ! Bon voyage ! " the little crowd cheered. 
And then, " Vive la France ! " Throats tightened, including 
Sophia's. 

But the top of the balloon had leaned over, destroying its 
pear-shape, and the whole mass swerved violently towards 
the wall of the station, the car swinging under it h'ke a toy, 
and an anchor under the car. There was a cry of alarm. 
Then the great ball leaped again, and swept over the high 
glass roof, escaping by inches the spouting. The cheers 
expired instantly. . . . The balloon was gone. It was 
spirited away as if by some furious and mighty power that 
had grown impatient in waiting for it. There remained for 
a few seconds on the collective retina of the spectators a 
vision of the inclined car swinging near the roof h'ke the tail 
of a kite. And then nothing ! Blankness ! Blackness ! 
Already the balloon was lost to sight in the vast stormy 
ocean of the night, a plaything of the winds. The spectators 
became once more aware of the dull booming of the cannon- 
ade. The balloon was already perhaps flying unseen amid 
the wrack over those guns. 

Sophia involuntarily caught her breath. A chill sense of 
loneliness, of purposelessness, numbed her being. 

Nobody ever saw Chirac or the old sailor again. The sea 
must have swallowed them. Of the sixty-five balloons that 
left Paris during the siege, two were not heard of. This was 
the first of the two. Chirac had, at any rate, not magnified 
the peril, though his intention was undoubtedly to magnify it. 



III. 

This was the end of Sophia's romantic adventures in France. 
Soon afterwards the Germans entered Paris, by mutual agree- 
ment, and made a point of seeing the Louvre, and departed, 



SUCCESS. 413 

amid the silence of a city. For Sophia the conclusion of the 
siege meant chiefly that prices went down. Long before 
supplies from outside could reach Paris, the shop-windows 
were suddenly full of goods which had arrived from the 
shopkeepers alone knew where. Sophia, with the stock in 
her cellar, could have held out for several weeks more, and it 
annoyed her that she had not sold more of her good things 
while good things were worth gold. The signing of a treaty 
at Versailles reduced the value of Sophia's two remaining 
hams from about five pounds apiece to the usual price of hams. 
However, at the end of January she found herself in posses- 
sion of a capital of about eight thousand francs, all the furni- 
ture of the flat, and a reputation. She had earned it all. 
Nothing could destroy the structure of her beauty, but she 
looked worn and appreciably older. She wondered often 
when Chirac would return. She might have written to 
Carlier or to the paper ; but she did not. It was Niepce who 
discovered in a newspaper that Chirac's balloon had mis- 
carried. At the moment the news did not affect her at 
all ; but after several days she began to feel her loss in a 
dull sort of way; and she felt it more and more, though 
never acutely. She was perfectly convinced that Chirac 
could never have attracted her powerfully. She continued 
to dream, at rare intervals, of the kind of passion that would 
have satisfied her, glowing but banked down like a fire in some 
fine chamber of a rich but careful household. 

She was speculating upon what her future would be, and 
whether by inertia she was doomed to stay for ever in the 
Rue Br6da, when the Commune caught her. She was more 
vexed than frightened by the Commune ; vexed that a city 
so in need of repose and industry should indulge in such 
antics. For many people the Commune was a worse ex- 
perience than the siege ; but not for Sophia. She was a 
woman and a foreigner. Niepce was infinitely more dis- 
turbed than Sophia ; he went in fear of his life. Sophia would 
go put to market and take her chances. It is true that 
during one period the whole population of the house went 
to live in the cellars, and orders to the butcher and other 
tradesmen were given over the party -wall into the adjoining 
courtyard, which communicated with an alley. A strange 
existence, and possibly perilous ! But the women who 
passed through it, and had also passed through the siege, 
were not very much intimidated by it, unless they happened 
to have husbands or lovers who were active politicians. 

Sophia did not cease, during the greater part of the year 
1871, to make a living and to save money. She watched 



4 I4 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

every sou, and she developed a tendency to demand from 
her tenants all that they could pay. She excused this to 
herself by ostentatiously declaring every detail of her prices 
in advance. It came to the same thing in the end, with this 
advantage, that the bills did not lead to unpleasantness. 
Her difficulties commenced when Paris at last definitely 
resumed its normal aspect and life, when all the women and 
children came back to those city termini which they had 
left in such huddled, hysterical throngs, when flats were re- 
opened that had long been shut, and men who for a whole 
year had had the disadvantages and the advantages of being 
without wife and family, anchored themselves once more to 
the hearth. Then it was that Sophia failed to keep all her 
rooms let. She could have let them easily and constantly 
and at high rents ; but not to men without encumbrances. 
Nearly every day she refused attractive tenants in pretty hats, 
or agreeable gentlemen who only wanted a room on condition 
that they might offer hospitality to a dashing petticoat. It 
was useless to proclaim aloud that her house was " serious." 
The ambition of the majority of these joyous persons was to 
live in a " serious " house, because each was sure that at 
bottom he or she was a " serious " person, and quite different 
from the rest of the joyous world. The character of Sophia's 
flat, instead of repelling the wrong kind of aspirant, infallibly 
drew just that kind. Hope was inextinguishable in these 
bosoms. They heard that there would be no chance for 
them at Sophia's ; but they tried nevertheless. And 
occasionally Sophia would make a mistake, and grave un- 
pleasantness would occur before the mistake could be recti- 
fied. The fact was that the street was too much for her. 
Few people would credit that there was a serious boarding- 
house in the Rue Breda. The police themselves would not 
credit it. And Sophia's beauty was against her. At that 
time the Rue Br6da was perhaps the most notorious street 
in the centre of Paris ; at the height of its reputation as a 
warren of individual improprieties ; most busily creating 
that prejudice against itself which, over thirty years later, 
forced the authorities to change its name in obedience to 
the wish of its tradesmen. When Sophia went out at about 
eleven o'clock in the morning with her reticule to buy, the 
street was littered with women who had gone out with 
reticules to buy. But whereas Sophia was fully dressed, 
and wore headgear, the others were in dressing-gown and 
slippers, or opera-cloak and slippers, having slid directly out 
of unspeakable beds and omitted to brush their hair out of 
their puffy eyes. In the little shops of the Rue Breda, the 



SUCCESS. 415 

Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, and the Rue des Martyrs, you 
were very close indeed to the primitive instincts of human 
nature. It was wonderful ; it was amusing ; it was ex- 
citingly picturesque ; and the universality of the manners 
rendered moral indignation absurd. But the neighbourhood 
was certainly not one in which a woman of Sophia's race, 
training, and character could comfortably earn a living, or 
even exist. She could not fight against the entire street. 
She, and not the street, was out of place and in the wrong. 
Little wonder that the neighbours lifted their shoulders when 
they spoke of her 1 What beautiful woman but a mad 
Englishwoman would have had the idea of establishing her- 
self in the Rue Breda with the intention of living like a nun 
and compelling others to do the same ? 

By dint of continual ingenuity, Sophia contrived to win 
somewhat more than her expenses, but she was slowly driven 
to admit to herself that the situation could not last. 

Then one day she saw in Galignani's Messenger an adver- 
tisement of an English pension for sale in the Rue Lord Byron, 
in the Champs Elysees quarter. It belonged to some people 
named Frensham, and had enjoyed a certain popularity 
before the war. The proprietor and his wife, however, had 
not sufficiently allowed for the vicissitudes of politics in 
Paris. Instead of saving money during their popularity, 
they had put it on the back and on the fingers of Mrs. 
Frensham. The siege and the Commune had almost ruined 
them. With capital they might have restored themselves 
to their former pride ; but their capital was exhausted. 
Sophia answered the advertisement. She impressed the 
Frenshams, who were delighted with the prospect of dealing 
in business with an honest English face. Like many English 
people abroad, they were most strangely obsessed by the notion 
that they had quitted an island of honest men to live among 
thieves and robbers. They always implied that dishonesty 
was unknown in Britain. They offered, if she would take 
over the lease, to sell all their furniture and their renown for 
ten thousand francs. She declined, the price seeming absurd 
to her. When they asked her to name a price, she said that 
she preferred not to do so. Upon entreaty, she said four 
thousand francs. They then allowed her to see that they 
considered her to have been quite right in hesitating to name 
a price so ridiculous. And their confidence in the honest 
English face seemed to have been shocked. Sophia left. 
When she got back to the Rue Breda she was relieved that 
the matter had come to nothing. She did not precisely fore- 
see what her future was to be, but at any rate she knew she 



416 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

shrank from the responsibility of the Pension Frensham. 
The next morning she received a letter offering to accept six 
thousand. She wrote and declined. She was indifferent, 
and she would not budge from four thousand. The Fren- 
shams gave way. They were pained, but they gave way. 
The glitter of four thousand francs in cash, and freedom, 
was too tempting. 

Thus Sophia became the proprietress of the Pension 
Frensham in the cold and correct Rue Lord Byron. She 
made room in it for nearly all her other furniture, so that 
instead of being under-furnished, as pensions usually are, 
it was over-furnished. She was extremely timid at first, 
for the rent alone was four thousand francs a year ; and the 
prices of the quarter were alarmingly different from those of 
the Rue Breda. She lost a lot of sleep. For some nights, 
after she had been installed in the Rue Lord Byron about a 
fortnight, she scarcely slept at all, and she ate no more than 
she slept. She cut down expenditure to the very lowest, and 
frequently walked over to the Rue Breda to do her marketing. 
With the aid of a charwoman at six sous an hour she accom- 
plished everything. And though clients were few, the feat 
was in the nature of a miracle ; for Sophia had to cook. 

The articles which George Augustus Sala wrote under the 
title " Paris herself again " ought to have been paid for in 
gold by the hotel and pension-keepers of Paris. They 
awakened the English curiosity and the desire to witness 
the scene of terrible events. Their effect was immediately 
noticeable. In less than a year after her adventurous pur- 
chase, Sophia had acquired confidence, and she was employ- 
ing two servants, working them very hard at low wages. 
She had also acquired the landlady's manner. She was 
known as Mrs. Frensham. Across the balconies of two win- 
dows the Frenshams had left a gilded sign, " Pension 
Frensham," and Sophia had not removed it. She often 
explained that her name was not Frensham ; but in vain. 
Every visitor inevitably and persistently addressed her 
according to the sign. It was past the general comprehension 
that the proprietress of the Pension Frensham might bear 
another name than Frensham. But later there came into 
being a class of persons, habitues of the Pension Frensham, 
who knew the real name of the proprietress and were proud 
of knowing it, and by this knowledge were distinguished 
from the herd. What struck Sophia was the astounding simi- 
larity of her guests. They all asked the same questions, made 
the same exclamations, went out on the same excursions, 
returned with the same judgments, and exhibited the same 



SUCCESS. 417 

unimpaired assurance that foreigners were really very peculiar 
people. They never seemed to advance in knowledge. There 
was a constant stream of explorers from England who had 
to be set on their way to the Louvre or the Bon Marche. 

Sophia's sole interest was in her profits. The excellence 
of her house was firmly established. She kept it up, and she 
kept the modest prices up. Often she had to refuse guests. 
She naturally did so with a certain distant condescension. 
Her manner to guests increased in stiff formality ; and she 
was excessively firm with undesirables. She grew to be 
seriously convinced that no pension as good as hers existed 
in the world, or ever had existed, or ever could exist. Hers 
was the acme of niceness and respectability. Her prefer- 
ence for the respectable rose to a passion. And there were no 
faults in her establishment. Even the once despised showy 
furniture of Madame Foucault had mysteriously changed 
into the best conceivable furniture ; and its cracks were 
hallowed. 

She never heard a word of Gerald nor of her family. In 
the thousands of people who stayed under her perfect roof, 
not one mentioned Bursley nor disclosed a knowledge of 
anybody that Sophia had known. Several men had the wit 
to propose marriage to her with more or less skilfulness, but 
none of them was skilful enough to perturb her heart. She 
had forgotten the face of love. She was a landlady. She 
was the landlady : efficient, stylish, diplomatic, and tre- 
mendously experienced. There was no trickery, no base- 
ness of Parisian life that she was not acquainted with and 
armed against. She could not be startled and she could not 
be swindled. 

Years passed, until there was a vista of years behind her. 
Sometimes she would think, in an unoccupied moment, " How 
strange it is that I should be here, doing what. I am doing ! " 
But the regular ordinariness of her existence would instantly 
seize her again. At the end of 1878, the Exhibition Year, 
her Pension consisted of two floors instead of one, and she had 
turned the two hundred pounds stolen from Gerald into over 
two thousand. 



BOOK IV. 
WHAT LIFE IS. 



CHAPTER I. 

FRENSHAM'S. 
I. 

MATTHEW PEEL-SWYNNERTON sat in the long dining-room 
of the Pension Frensham, Rue Lord Byron, Paris ; and he 
looked out of place there. It was an apartment about thirty 
feet in length, and of the width of two windows, which 
sufficiently lighted one half of a very long table with round 
ends. The gloom of the other extremity was illumined by a 
large mirror in a tarnished gilt frame, which filled a good 
portion of the wall opposite the windows. Near the mirror 
was a high folding-screen of four leaves, and behind this screen 
could be heard the sound of a door continually shutting and 
opening. In the long wall to the left of the windows were 
two doors, one dark and important, a door of state, through 
which a procession of hungry and a procession of sated solemn 
self-conscious persons passed twice daily, and the other, a 
smaller door, glazed, its glass painted with wreaths of roses, 
not an original door of the house, but a late breach in the 
wall, that seemed to lead to the dangerous and to the naughty. 
The wall-paper and the window drapery were rich and for- 
bidding, dark in hue, mysterious of pattern. Over the state- 
door was a pair of antlers. And at intervals, so high up as 
to defy inspection, engravings and oil-paintings made oblong 
patches on the walls. They were hung from immense nails 
with porcelain heads, and they appeared to depict the more 
majestic aspect of man and nature. One engraving, over 
the mantelpiece and nearer earth than the rest, unmistakably 
showed Louis Philippe and his family in attitudes of virtue. 
Beneath this royal group, a vast gilt clock, flanked by 
pendants of the same period, gave the right time a quarter 
past seven. 
And down the room, filling it, ran the great white table, 



422 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

bordered with bowed heads and the backs of chairs. There 
were over thirty people at the table, and the peculiarly 
restrained noisiness of their knives and forks on the plates 
proved that they were a discreet and a correct people. Their 
clothes blouses, bodices, and jackets did not natter the 
lust of the eye. Only two or three were in evening dress. 
They spoke little, and generally in a timorous tone, as though 
silence had been enjoined. Somebody would half-whisper a 
remark, and then his neighbour, absently fingering her bread 
and lifting gaze from her plate into vacancy, would con- 
scientiously weigh the remark and half-whisper in reply : 
" I dare say." But a few spoke loudly and volubly, and were 
regarded by the rest, who envied them, as underbred. 

Food was quite properly the chief preoccupation. The 
diners ate as those eat who are paying a fixed price per day 
for as much as they can consume while observing the rules of 
the game. Without moving their heads they glanced out of 
the corners of their eyes, watching the manoeuvres of the 
three starched maids who served. They had no conception 
of food save as portions laid out in rows on large silver dishes, 
and when a maid bent over them deferentially, balancing the 
dish, they summed up the offering in an instant, and in an 
instant decided how much they could decently take, and to 
what extent they could practise the theoretic liberty of choice. 
And if the food for any reason did not tempt them, or if it 
egregiously failed to coincide with their aspirations, they 
considered themselves aggrieved. For, according to the 
game, they might not command ; they had the right to 
seize all that was presented under their noses, like genteel 
tigers ; and they had the right to refuse : that was all. 
The dinner was thus a series of emotional crises for the 
diners, who knew only that full dishes and clean plates came 
endlessly from the banging door behind the screen, and that 
ravaged dishes and dirty plates vanished endlessly through 
the same door. They were all eating similar food simul- 
taneously ; they began together and they finished together. 
The flies that haunted the paper-bunches which hung from 
the chandeliers to the level of the flower-vases, were more 
free. The sole event that chequered the exact regularity of 
the repast was the occasional arrival of a wine-bottle for one 
of the guests. The receiver of the wine-bottle signed a small 
paper in exchange for it and wrote largely a number on the 
label of the bottle ; then, staring at the number and fearing 
that after all it might be misread by a stupid maid or an un- 
scrupulous compeer, he would re-write the number on another 
part of the label, even more largely. 



FRENSHAM'S. 423 

Matthew Peel-Swynnerton obviously did not belong co this 
world. He was a young man of twenty-five or so, not hand- 
some, but elegant. Though he was not in evening dress, 
though he was, as a fact, in a very light grey suit, entirely 
improper to a dinner, he was elegant. The suit was admi- 
rably cut, and nearly new ; but he wore it as though he had 
never worn anything else. Also his demeanour, reserved 
yet free from self-consciousness, his method of handling a 
knife and fork, the niceties of his manner in transferring 
food from the silver dishes to his plate, the tone in which he 
ordered half a bottle of wine all these details infallibly 
indicated to the company that Matthew Peel-Swynnerton 
was their superior. Some folks hoped that he was the son of 
a lord, or even a lord. He happened to be fixed at the end of 
the table, with his back to the window, and there was a vacant 
chair on either side of him ; this situation favoured the hope 
of his high rank. In truth, he was the son, the grandson, 
and several times the nephew, of earthenware manufacturers. 
He noticed that the large " compote " (as it was called in his 
trade) which marked the centre of the table, was the produc- 
tion of his firm. This surprised him, for Peel, Swynnerton 
and Co., known and revered throughout the Five Towns 
as " Peels," did not cater for cheap markets. 

A late guest startled the room, a fat, flabby, middle-aged 
man whose nose would have roused the provisional hostility 
of those who have convinced themselves that Jews are not as 
other men. His nose did not definitely brand him as a 
usurer and a murderer of Christ, but it was suspicious. His 
clothes hung loose, and might have been anybody's clothes. 
He advanced with brisk assurance to the table, bowed, some- 
what too effusively, to several people, and sat down next to 
Peel-Swynnerton. One of the maids at once brought him a 
plate of soup, and he said : " Thank you, Marie," smiling at 
her. He was evidently a habitue" of the house. His spec- 
tacled eyes beamed the superiority which comes of knowing 
girls by their names. He was seriously handicapped in the 
race for sustenance, being two and a half courses behind, but 
he drew level with speed and then, having accomplished 
this, he sighed, and pointedly engaged Peel-Swynnerton with 
his sociable glance. 

" Ah ! " he breathed out. " Nuisance when you come in 
late, sir 1 " 

Peel-Swynnerton gave a reluctant affirmative. 

" Doesn't only upset you ! It upsets the house ! Serv- 
ants don't like it ! 

" No," murmured Peel-Swynnerton, " I suppose not." 



424 THE OLD WIVES' TALE. 

" However, it's not often I'm late," said the man. " Can't 
help it sometimes. Business ! Worst of these French busi- 
ness people is that they've no notion of time. Appoint- 
ments . . . ! God bless my soul ! " 

" Do you come here often ? " asked Peel-Swynnerton. He 
detested the fellow, quite inexcusably, perhaps because his 
serviette was tucked under his chin ; but he saw that the 
fellow was one of your determined talkers, who always win 
in the end. Moreover, as being clearly not an ordinary 
tourist in Paris, the fellow mildly excited his curiosity. 

" I live here," said the other. " Very convenient for a 
bachelor, you know. Have done for years. My office is 
just close by. You may know my name Lewis Mardon." 

Peel-Swynnerton hesitated. The hesitation convicted him 
of not " knowing his Paris " well. 

" House-agent," said Lewis Mardon, quickly. 

" Oh yes," said Peel-Swynnerton, vaguely recalling a vision 
of the name among the advertisements on newspaper kiosks. 

" I expect," Mr. Mardon went on, " my name is as well- 
known as anybody's in Paris." 

" I suppose so," assented Peel-Swynnerton. 

The conversation fell for a few moments. 

" Staying here long ? " Mr. Mardon demanded, having 
added up Peel-Swynnerton as a man of style and of means, 
and being puzzled by his presence at that table. 

" I don't know," said Peel-Swynnerton. 

This was a lie, justified in the utterer's opinion as a repulse 
to Mr. Mardon's vulgar inquisitiveness, such inquisitiveness 
as might have been expected from a fellow who tucked his 
serviette under his chin. Peel-Swynnerton knew exactly 
how long he would stay. He would stay until the day after 
the morrow ; he had only about fifty francs in his pocket. 
He had been making a fool of himself in another quarter of 
Paris, and he had descended to the Pension Frensham as a 
place where he could be absolutely sure of spending not more 
than twelve francs a day. Its reputation was high, and it 
was convenient for the Galliera Museum, where he was 
making some drawings which he had come to Paris expressly 
to make, and without which he could not reputably return to 
England. He was capable of foolishness, but he was also 
capable of wisdom, and scarcely any pressure of need would 
have induced him to write home for money to replace the 
money spent on making himself into a fool. 

Mr. Mardon was conscious of a check. But, being of an 
accommodating disposition, he at once tried another direction. 

" Good food here, eh ? " he suggested. 



FRENSHAM'S. 425 

" Very," said Peel-Swynnerton, with sincerity. " I was 
quite " 

At that moment, a tall straight woman of uncertain age 
pushed open the principal door and stood for an instant in 
the doorway. Peel-Swynnerton had just time to notice 
that she was handsome and pale, and that her hair was black, 
and then she was gone again, followed by a clipped poodle 
that accompanied her. She had signed with a brief gesture 
to one of the servants, who at once set about lighting the gas- 
jets over the table. 

" Who is that ? " asked Peel-Swynnerton, without reflect- 
ing that it was now he who was making advances to the 
fellow whose napkin covered all his shirt-front. 

" That's the missis, that is," said Mr. Mardon, in a lower 
and semi-confidential voice. 
Oh ! Mrs. Frensham ? " 

Yes. But her real name is Scales," said Mr. Mardon, 
proudly. 

' Widow, I suppose ? " 
Yes." 

And she runs the whole show ? " 
' She runs the entire contraption," said Mr. Mardon, 
solemnly ; " and don't you make any mistake ! " He was 
getting familiar. 

Peel-Swynnerton beat him off once more, glancing with 
careful, uninterested nonchalance at the gas-burners which 
exploded one after another with a little plop under the appli- 
cation of the maid's taper. The white table gleamed more 
whitely than ever under the flaring gas. People at the end 
of the room away from the window instinctively smiled, as 
though the sun had begun to shine. The aspect of the dinner 
was changed, ameliorated ; and with the reiterated statement 
that the evenings were drawing in though it was only July, 
conversation became almost general. In two minutes Mr. 
Mardon was genially talking across the whole' length of the 
table. The meal finished in a state that resembled con- 
viviality. 

Matthew Peel-Swynnerton might not go out into the 
crepuscular delights of Paris. Unless he remained within 
the shelter of the Pension, he could not hope to complete 
successfully his re-conversion from folly to wisdom. So he 
bravely passed through the small rose-embroidered door 
into a small glass-covere